By Dr Carlos Bugeja - Partner
The Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at the Calvary holds a special place in law which other religious holidays (such as Christmas Day, Easter Sunday, etc) do not.
When one speaks about the law and Good Friday, what immediately comes to mind is the infamous controversy surrounding the Irish prohibitionist laws for this holy day. For nearly one hundred years, drinking on Good Friday was prohibited in Ireland. From 1927 to 2018, pubs and shops were forbidden from selling alcohol on this day, through a law known as the Intoxicating Liquor Act. In 2010, this law was subject to a massive court case in Ireland in view of a big rugby game that was to be played on Good Friday. Publicans in the county of Limerick applied for an exemption from this rule in court. After long deliberation, the district court (per Judge Tom O'Donnell) allowed the exemption and concluded that: "Having considered all the submissions, I am satisfied that the match has all the vestiges and attributes of a special event. I accept that this decision may cause controversy in several quarters and, having considered the arguments, I wish to point out that the District Court is a court of record and not a court of precedent". In 2018, the law was abolished.
Malta still maintains similar restrictions, and in the past, it has experienced comparable controversies. In year 2010, the massive supermarket chain 'LiDL' in Malta announced that it would operate normally on Good Friday of year 2011, and that is shall open from 7am to 7pm. Any hope of the supermarket chain to rake in from pre-procession custom came to an abrupt premature end when national controversy erupted. High officials within large trade unions were quoted saying phrases like "‘Good Friday is untouchable". Having noted the public outcry, the Government of that time quickly issued a Legal Notice, providing a law against the opening shop on Good Friday.
In time, the law continued to develop and a uniform system providing restrictions against trade on Good Friday was established. Whoever would like to set up a commercial fair or exhibition is duty bound by law to apply for a special trade licence established under regulation 33 of Subsidiary Legislation 441.07. An authorisation for a commercial fair or commercial exhibition is issued by the Trade Licensing Unit, and shall be valid for seven consecutive days including Sundays and Public Holidays except Good Friday. No fairs or commercial exhibitions may be held on this day.
Good Friday is also treated differently by the law when it comes to the regulated business hours in the Subsidiary Legislation 441.08, known as the Business Hours Regulations. The general rule under regulation 3 of the subsidiary legislation (there are of course exceptions when it comes to some classes of business) is that retailers may carry business during established hours between Mondays and Saturdays, and limitedly on Sundays. These business hours are likewise applicable during all public holidays, except for Good Friday. Casinos shall also remain closed on Good Friday. This means that most retailers can open shop on Christmas Day, Easter Sunday, and literally any day of the year, except for on Good Friday.
Dr Carlos Bugeja is Partner at PROLEGAL Advocates.
Disclaimer: This article is not to be construed as being legal advice, and is not to be acted on as such. Should you require further information or legal assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Dr Carlos Bugeja at firstname.lastname@example.org.