Insight

A change of attitude is required from everyone to improve the law courts, lawyer says

Turnaround times for law suits are too long. It is not a change in legislation or policy that is required to fix this, but a change in attitude from all the key players, managing partner of Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates, Malcolm Mifsud tells MaltaProfile.

Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates is a boutique law firm offering specialised legal services in a number of areas for local and foreign, individual and corporate clients. With offices in Valletta, Antwerp, Palermo and Catania, they have a predominantly European clientele. Specialising in commercial and maritime law, the company offer a range of services including corporate and European Law, trust set up services, tax advisory, shipping and EU regulatory compliance services.

Can you give an overview of the company, its core business segments and its key markets?

Mifsud and Mifsud Advocates are a traditional law firm. We see ourselves as a competent firm who are on the same level as big players. We have the necessary skills to offer the necessary services to the clients. We mostly advise clients on commercial and civil issues as well as being strong in litigation. We draft contracts, as well as giving general and specific advice. There’s also the international side of financial services, where we incorporate companies, foundations, trusts and tax-efficient vehicles. We work mostly with international, but also with local clients. Through the corporate arm, we have a company called Aegis Corporate Services Limited, who carry out the administration for the companies that we set up. Prior to setting up, during and after, we are in a position to assist clients in advising on corporate issues.

For both local and international clients, what would you highlight as your competitive edge over other firms in the industry?

As we are a small law firm, personal attention is our strong point. Depending on the complexity of the issue that the client asks us to deal with, we build a customised team around that. If we require outside consultation, we will acquire this, but we are always the main point of communication with our clients. This is something we feel is important to them, that they know who they are talking to, and they trust us. Obviously, we pride ourselves on being a reputable law firm and on our expertise and knowledge of the law, therefore we always strive to recruit the best talent around. We’re also careful about who we ally ourselves with, choosing trusted and reliable firms. We are flexible, in that we are not stuck to a particular set of rules internally. We are independent, in the sense that our main business comes from private clients, companies and individuals. We are not tied to any government bodies therefore we are very free to take a position with regards to any local authority. We try and mould ourselves around the client’s needs as best we can, and we’ve seen that clients appreciate that.

With the shifting global economic climate, are you seeing an evolution in your profession or how law firms operate?

Definitely. Due diligence is necessary, and the regulations with regards to compliance and money laundering are becoming more stringent. As practitioners, the onus is on us now, in that we advise clients but we are also whistle blowers. We make clients well aware of our dual role. Fortunately, being a small law firm, we are in a position that we can choose clients, so if we are uncomfortable with a client, we have the option to say no. The crisis in various jurisdictions has affected the profession to a certain extent. However, clients look at Malta as a stable jurisdiction, both politically and economically. When you compare Malta to other jurisdictions that were previously more popular in the corporate service world, it is definitely more favourable. I also believe the less intervention that there is from the government, the better. However, I know they have to legislate to make sure certain laws are in place and are being implemented. It is also important that we actively continue to be pro investment and pro-business.

Your firm is highly specialised in maritime litigation. Why is Malta so attractive to the shipping industry?

First of all, Malta offers all or most of the maritime services. There are both wet and dry facilities here and a very strong register. That is where we come in. Mifsud & Mifsud have a very strong portfolio in yachts for example. The VAT scheme that has been implemented since 2005 is popular and attracts a number of yacht owners to Malta. The expertise in the maritime business here is second to none. In all facets of the maritime field you will find competence. There are experts that can cater for the different areas, especially lawyers who are fully equipped to advise and represent maritime clients. What we have yet to pierce through is arbitration, which I feel would be useful. Although it is changing to a certain extent, a specialised court that would deal primarily with maritime issues would be something else we would like to see. In the meantime, it is important to focus on investing in and developing the industry.

Madeira seems to be emerging as a potential competitor for Malta in terms of its registry, would you agree?

It is certainly emerging but the Maltese flag is a strongly established one. It has a solid reputation in the port states. A Maltese registered flag entering a port will have its benefits simply because it is Maltese, it has stood the test of time and is constantly approved. There are a number of big players in the maritime field that use Malta as their flag, base and for the services. Obviously there is investment behind the Madeira flag, but we will have to see how it develops.

What kind of major developments are shaping the legal sphere in Malta?

The legal profession must always adapt to the times, each organisation needs to have specialised individuals, who can give the right advice on specific issues. Laws are no longer generic, legislation has in fact become very complex. We are marrying EU legislation, so there is more than purely local legislation to consider. We also have to look at the directives and check compatibility. It is surprising that even some general enquiries we receive, can have a number of complexities surrounding them. Another development would be that instead of working in a small jurisdiction, we work in a global one. We have contact with people in Poland, London and Russia for example. The interest in Malta is increasing, which is of course an opportunity, but it can also have its drawbacks. It is important that we maintain the high levels of integrity and professionalism that make Malta a reputable jurisdiction. In order to do this, we need sufficient lawyers and professionals to deal with the developments. Issues like FATCA and money laundering, require the capacity to deal with them effectively. That goes for every profession, not only law firms, but accountancy and audit firms too.

What is your opinion on the state of Malta’s current legal and court system?

There are new legal notices and laws being issued that mirror what is happening in the EU. These include some brand new issues for us that we have never dealt with before. With regards to the law courts, there is a major push for reform. In my opinion, the law courts here do not have a reputation for being the most efficient institution. One of the main problems is that there is quite a long turnaround time, from filing a writ, to getting a judgement and executing that judgement, it can take years. The only way to change this is not a change of legislation or policy, but to change the attitude of all the key players. This includes lawyers, judges, politicians and the staff at the courts. It is important to bear in mind that our clients are party to the law suits, so whether they are right or wrong, they want a speedy decision. If you have clients who use Malta as their base, obviously disputes can arise within the company or with another. If you can’t find a speedy resolution, it affects our reputation outside of Malta.

Which sectors do you see as having the most opportunity or growth potential at the moment?

Definitely the maritime field. Although we are very strong in this sector, with the high registration of yachts and vessels, there is still space to grow. Also, in the sector of online law, which we have been looking into recently. We are seeing development there and the challenges it faces, so in the future, we hope to offer that as a core service. There is a whole ambit of legislation, and there are business opportunities to attract investment if the legislation is in place. Another area that Mifsud & Mifsud are dealing with increasingly is aviation. There was a change in legislation about four years ago, and since then we have managed to tap into a number of clients in the aviation field. I think this is another area that Malta can seize and try to penetrate more, especially in the private jets area.

What personal message would you like to share with the international business community about Malta?

Clients look at Malta favourably because of our attitude and pro-business approach. The fact that the regulator is easily accessible, because it is a small country, is advantageous. We know of many clients that get into trouble with their regulator, and they don’t know why. In Malta, it is easier to know what the situation is, so that is a big plus. There is a strong local business community, therefore finding astute and reliable business partners here is no problem. There are some excellent local businessmen who know exactly what they are doing, suitable to partner with investors.

Malcolm Mifsud is a founding partner of Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates, along with his brother, Cedric Mifsud. Malcolm’s main areas of practice are Criminal and Civil law and he is considered as one of the leading litigation lawyers at the moment. He also specialises in Maritime law. Malcolm is the former Mayor of Pieta, a post which he held for 16 years. He was also President of the Central Region of Malta and a Maltese Member on the Committee of Regions of Europe.

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