Backlogs in the courts, an existing problem made worse by the coronavirus pandemic

Malaga's court complex.
Malaga's court complex. / ÑITO SALAS
  • The chief judge in Malaga and president of the provincial high court are calling for more magistrates and judges to be assigned to the region

Coronavirus hasn't helped". This is something you hear a lot in the justice system these days, from lawyers to prosecutors and magistrates, about the backlog in the Malaga courts. This is nothing new; it has been a problem for years, but it has been made worse by the pandemic. In fact the chief judge in Malaga, José María Páez, insists that the figures for 2020 cannot be taken into account because society as a whole, including the judicial system, was paralysed last year due to coronavirus.

For that reason, the latest figures are from before the pandemic. The amount of new cases the different courts can handle each year is decided by the Ministry of Justice and the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ). In Malaga, all these limits have been exceeded.

For example, the maximum for the magistrates courts should be 1,200 cases, but in Malaga city there are over 2,200. The commercial courts began last year with 3,298 cases pending, which is the highest figure in Andalucía. "In the disputes tribunals, we closed 2019 with a figure of 7,431, the highest in Andalucía, while in Seville there were 1,000 fewer cases. Seville has 14 of these courts, and Malaga only has seven," says Páez.

For social cases, there were about 15,000 pending at the start of 2020, but Páez explains that, due to the pandemic, hearings had to be suspended, which meant that they had to be rescheduled without any dates being available. As a result, appointments are now being made for these in 2023.

The backlog from before the pandemic and the paralysis of the justice system last year have highlighted all the problems faced by the courts, says the head of Malaga lawyers, Salvador González. "Now we expect the justice system to be completely overwhelmed again, with the end of the moratoria on bankruptcy proceedings and the temporary furloughs," he says.

Páez agrees that things are about to get even worse. "All the courts have a backlog and coronavirus is still going to cause delays," he says. The answer, he insists, is for the government to invest in the justice system. "For years in Malaga city we have been asking for another 26 judges and their teams, so we can handle the workload," he says.

Elsewhere in the province

With regard to the rest of Malaga province, the president of the provincial high court, Lourdes García Ortiz, says at least six more judges and their teams are needed to work in the different courts in Malaga. She quotes Estepona as an example, saying that it is suffering from a structural problem. "The courts there are completely overwhelmed. There are so many cases that they just can't deal with them all," she says.

Measures taken by different administrations to alleviate the damage to the justice system caused by the pandemic have helped to a certain extent, but they are considered insufficient. "A lot of work has only been done thanks to the sheer commitment of staff in the justice system, from civil servants to lawyers, prosecutors and judges," say representatives. "Otherwise it would not have been possible."