Before October of 1981, there was only one Court within the Maltese Church, called the Metropolitan Tribunal. Apart from being the First Instance Tribunal for Malta, it was also the Second Instance and Appeal Tribunal for Gozo, our sister island, and Gibraltar. This meant that all marriage nullity cases adjudged by this Metropolitan Tribunal of Malta (First Instance Tribunal) had to be examined both in Second Instance as well as if any of the parties appealed in the Appeal stage, by the Tribunal of the Roman Rota (Highest Marriage Tribunal in the Catholic Church). In October 1981 the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (Highest Apostolic Tribunal) approved the request made by the Maltese Episcopal Conference and erected the Regional Tribunal of Second Instance with jurisdiction to examine in the second stage all cases which were decided upon by the Metropolitan Tribunal of Malta as well as those adjudged by the Tribunals of the Dioceses of Gozo and of Gibraltar.
This means that thenceforth all Marriage Nullity Cases, as well as other Court Cases, unless if it concerns an Appeal and is expressly requested in the Note of Appeal by the parties, are now normally forwarded to the Regional Tribunal of Second Instance here in Malta, while Third Instance would normally be the Tribunal of the Roman Rota. In exceptional cases a Commissio Pontificia is requested by the Regional Tribunal through the Apostolic Signatura so that a Case may be examined in the Third Instance by an English speaking Ecclesiastical Tribunal.
By direct request of the Vicar Apostolic of Tripoli in Libya in 1990, jurisdiction of our Tribunals was extended by a Decree of the Apostolic Signatura to that country as well. In 1993 an Agreement was entered into by the Holy See and the Republic of Malta granting civil recognition to canonical marriages and decisions delivered by Ecclesiastical Authorities and Tribunals on the same marriages. An additional Protocol giving recognition also to Negative decisions delivered by the same Ecclesiastical Authorities and Tribunals has also been signed [cf. FORUM n. 1, vol. 6, 1995]. The Agreement was signed on the 3rd February 1993. The Bill amending the 1975 Marriage Act passed through all the stages of Parliament on the 31st January 1995. The Agreement was then ratified by the Holy See and the Republic of Malta on the 25th March 1995, and the Marriage Act as amended became law on the 15th May 1995.