"Sir Thomas Maitland is historically considered 'an autocratic ruler'. However, he is known for his important legislative reforms. Comment."

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January 2004

“Sir Thomas Maitland is historically considered ‘an autocratic ruler’. However, he is known for his important legislative reforms. Comment.”



Introduction                                                                        3

The Maitland Instructions (an overview of the legal overhaul)                3

Malta : A Colony in the grip of Plague                                        4

Reform of the Law Courts and Education System                        5

Subsidiary legal reforms

        Commission of Piracy                                                7

        Law of Organisation and Civil Procedure _                        7

        Bankruptcy                                                                8

Public Registry and the Hypothecary System                        8

Mortmain Law                                                        8

Sanctuary                                                                8

Appeals to the Privy Council                                        8

Conclusion                                                                        9



lso known as ‘King Tom’, Sir Thomas Maitland is the only Mediterranean statesman in English history. He was the embodiment of England’s power in the Mediterranean, and as his biographer upheld in the book “Sir Thomas Maitland”, he was “…with one foot in Malta…and the other in Corfu, King Tom stood out as the visible embodiment of a Pax Brittanica. He bestrode the Mediterranean like a Colossus.”. People living under his domain viewed him as a quarrelsome and ruthless governor, but in spite of this, with the passage of time and subsiding of feelings, a more objective analysis shows that Maitland was a man who, with consummate ability, laid the foundations of Malta’s institutions, suppressed abuses and enacted reforms which only a capable, energetic person, who had dynamic energy and absolute fearlessness could effect.

The Maitland Instructions;

Lord Bathurst, commented that “…since the Island of Malta and its Dependencies came under the protection and Dominion of His Majesty in the year 1800, no permanent or definite system has been laid down for their Government…”. This comment was in response to a report issued by the Royal Commission of 1812, to which Maitland had forwarded his views on such report to the same Lord Bathurst, holding certain divergence in opinion with  the Commission.

 The main sectors of reform were the civil and military chief authority, which sectors were to be vested in the person of the Governor himself with the discretionary option to form an advisory Council; the declaration of allegiance and protection to and by the Crown, and particularly for the renunciation of ancient pretensions of the Crown of the Two Sicilies, and any other foreign country; the right by the King to appoint the Bishopric, subject to final approbation by the Pope; the removal of fees payable to judges by parties, thus rendering them less prone to abuse, and an upheaval of the system, where three judges were to be appointed for the Civil Court, tow for the Criminal Court, and one for the new Commercial Court, and a superior judge to sit as president of the High Court of Appeal. The judges of the Civil and Commercial Courts were to be Maltese, the rest either English or Maltese. The judgments of the High Court of Appeal were to be final except where the Presidenti certified that there were sufficient grounds for giving further consideration to a petition from the appellant, in which case the appeal might then be bought before the Supreme Council of Justice. No appeal rested in Criminal cases, however the Governor, except with regard to High treason, had the power to diminish the punishment and even excuse him altogether. Administrative procedure introduced included the trial in open court, the non-allowance of private access to judges, the possibility of advocacy representation, power by advocates to examine witnesses, pleadings and judgments were to be delivered in Italian, the notice of charges to accused, and the abolition of torture.

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Effectively Court reforms blended executive with judicial authority, in order to ascertain that any limit to a judicial function would also appear to limit executive power, and a portion of such authority was communicated to all inferior branches of the system, and thus setting the hierarchy which effectively dwindled the then prevalent “pettyfogging judicial tyranny”.

The Universita` was to be substituted by a Board of three members appointed by the Governor; all public monies were to be paid to the Treasury which required a warrant signed by the governor to expend them; the question of the housing of ...

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