Thursday 1 July 2021

Maltese Parliament to establish an Office of the Chief Herald of Arms (Properly?)

I note that, at last, Malta is attempting to do it right and doing what it should have done in the first place. My reader will already know that early in 2020 I brought to the attention of the Chief Investigating Officer at the Office of the Maltese Ombudsman that fact that the actions of the Chief Herald of Arms were ultra vires, unlawful and of no worth, because there was no lawful authority for the creation of the Office of Chief Herald or for anything he was doing. The Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, if he wished to create such an Office should have tabled a paper before Parliament for discussion. 

It seems that in actually attempting to now set up the Office of the Chief Herald of Arms of Malta, there is a tacit acceptance of my assertion that everything the so called Chief Herald has done to date is indeed ultra vires and I can say with some pride that my report, which can be found here had some effect in that the Minister has been forced to do what he should have done in the first place.

On the 22nd June, The Cultural Heritage Amendment Bill, presented by the Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, Hon. José Herrera MP received its first reading in the Parliament of Malta. 

"The objects and reasons of this Bill are to update the principal Act according to current practice and standards of heritage management, especially regulatory obligations, edit and correct mistakes, establish an office of the Chief Herald of Arms, provide for compensation of impacts on cultural heritage, better facilitate the State’s right of preference for the acquisition of cultural heritage items, and the formal establishment of National World Heritage Sites Technical Committee." 

I do however, have some reservations as the bill does not actually go so far as to create a "Heraldry Act" like the one South Africa had the good sense to create but only goes as far as amending Article 8 of The Cultural Heritage Act (Article 8 of the Act refers to The Operating Agency and the fact that it is restricted, like all other parts of the Act, to “those elements of the cultural heritage entrusted to it are protected and made accessible to the public as defined in this Act”). The amendment adds the words "to setup and manage the Office of the Chief Herald of Arms of Malta."

So, having passed a 1st reading, the Bill now has to pass a 2nd reading, then go to Committee Stage (at which time I shall give it another perusal to see if there is to any actual substantive detail/explanation), then go to Recommittal and on to 3rd Reading. 

So far, all we know is that the Minister has asked Parliament to add the words " to setup and manage the Office of the Chief Herald of Arms of Malta." If this is all that is approved, then there will still be doubts over what the Office can and can't do because I have yet to see anything to amend the restrictions in the original Act which only allows Heritage Malta to protect, preserve and record that which is already existing. 

Setting up an Office of the Chief Herald of Malta is one thing (and I am delighted that they are attempting to do so) but, so far, I have seen nothing that will allow any Chief Herald to grant arms anew, to register the arms of foreigners or to grant them arms anew when to do so has nothing to do with Maltese heritage or to invent and assign new coronets to the "non titled nobility" of Malta when non existed before and so can't be classed as "heritage". I have yet to see any retrospective provision or mention of recompense to those who have up to now paid for a grant or registration of arms which is in effect and in law void and worthless. I shall continue to delve into the amendment Bill and watch with interest its progress.

Watch this space.


  1. I hope the "Opposition Leader" in the Maltese government, the Nationalist leader is taking note and better still in consult with your expertise in ensuring all is pass accordingly to an effective, transparent, heritage base Organisation. This is their chance. Also I hope a Maltese journalist from any Newspaper is also reading this and consulting with you.

  2. As I understand it, once this Primary legislation is passed the Minister can enact Secondary legislation by Statutory Instrument which will dot all the "i"s & cross all the "t"s.

    1. Hello Bernard, you may well be right however, if the amendment passes as it stands, it will still not give any powers to a Chief Herald other than that already allowed, i. e. to preserve, record and promote that which already exists. It would take a very different, very substantial amendment to actually alter the entire remit of Heritage Malta to allow their employee to act as an heraldic authority. As it stands, without further amendments, the act doesn't create an heraldic authority but simply allows Heritage Malta to employ someone called a Chief Herald who won't have any more powers than any other employee of Heritage Malta. It may be that having created the Office, they will go on to ask for further amendments to the Heritage Act to allow the powers of an heraldic authoriry; if they don't, it will all have been a huge waste of time and anything the Herald does will continue to be ultra vires. Why they couldn't have submitted a proposed new heraldry act to Parliament is the real question. As to whether or not the present employee (who as it stands doesn't even have any official status) remains or doesn't is entirely a matter for his employers, Heritage Malta.


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