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Courts director refuses request for judgments removed from online database The director general at the law courts, Frank Mercieca, has refused a request by MaltaToday to provide a list of the cases that have so far been removed from the online database under the right to be forgotten. MaltaToday had requested a list of the case numbers removed from the Justice Services website by the courts since the option was introduced back in 2015. Earlier this month it was revealed that two law graduates had been allowed to sit for their warrant exam despite having admitted to fraudulently using a lost credit card. In addition to having being allowed to sit for their exam, it also emerged that one of the two lawyers had also had her case removed from the justice services website. Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said she had made a request to Mercieca, who had accepted her request after he had been instructed to use his discretion in deciding whether to accept such requests. Contacted yesterday, Mercieca said he could not pass on the list because he needed to verify whether he could legally do so, even more so given that they had been removed on the basis of their right to be forgotten. Moreover, he said that given that this newspaper had also filed a Freedom of Information request for the data, he would be replying within the timeframe required of him by law. Reacting to the controversy caused by the revelation, Mercieca said the issue had been blow somewhat out of proportion and explained that there was no law requiring judgments to be placed online. They were placed there, he said, as a matter of “convenience”. Furthermore, he said that while some judgments had been removed from the justice services website, which is accessible to the public, they could still be accessed through the online system used by the legal professionals. Criminal court judgments, however, can only be accessed through the justice services website. Mercieca confirmed that in total, 22 judgments had been removed so far, while one request was rejected. Moreover, he said a further ten requests had been received since news of the new practice broke. The first one, he said, had been removed in February 2015, four months after the request was originally made. He said that as the data controller, the courts’ administration was in a position to remove judgments on the basis of specific criteria, including the provisions of the Data Protection Act, as well as the factors like the nature of the crime and when it had taken place. “If it is a crime that remains on one’s criminal conduct, like a murder for example, then the request would obviously be rejected,” he said. Similarly, Mercieca stressed that a judgment from “three to four years ago was one thing, but one from six months is another”. He said that another consideration was whether the case was in the national interest. Asked whether he had discussed the matter with the Chamber of Advocates, Mercieca said the chamber had requested a meeting, and that they would be consulted on a way forward. On his part, Chamber of Advocates president George Hyzler said the chamber would be “studying” the issue and would be coming up with a position soon. He said the chamber had commissioned advice on the matter and would be discussing it internally once this was available to them. “It’s quite a technical subject and I don’t want to speak without being informed,” said Hyzler. On Friday, the Malta IT Law Association (MITLA) published a legal opinion in which it expressed its concern at recent reports that private individuals had successfully requested court cases decided against them be deleted from the online judgments database. MITLA said it was particularly concerned that these judgments had been removed without there being clear rules in place on how the right to be forgotten should be exercised. “Removal of personal data from an online service administered by Government and which contains public records, especially court judgments, cannot be simply compared to de-listing from a search engine,” said MITLA. It added that the right to be forgotten was not an absolute right and that past European Court judgments had not accepted requests for information from public databases to be removed.