The Malta Independent 24 August 2016, Wednesday

Updated (4): President says Justice Commission to rule on magistrate's nomination

Thursday, 4 February 2016, 09:19 Last update: about 8 months ago

President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said today that Commission against the Administration of Justice will be discussing one of the Magisterial nominations announced yesterday to verify whether the person nominated can be constitutionally appointed. The second magistrate announced by the government yesterday is, on the other hand, eligible for the post.

The President was reacting to reports on the nominations of Ingrid Zammit Young and Caroline Farrugia Frendo.

According to the CV sent by government, Dr Zammit Young occupied the post of Chairperson of the Employment Commission, which the opposition had pointed out as a disqualifier as far as her appointment to the bench was concerned. This is because for a nomination to be correct, the person nominated should not be a chairperson of a government entity for at least three years before the nomination.

For her part, Dr Farrugia Frendo, who is the daughter of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, can be nominated because the seven-year working practice condition has been satisfied. Dr Farrugia Frendo took her warrant seven years and four days ago.

Earlier, Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil had said that the President would not be proceeding with the oath of office of the magistrate. He was speaking after meeting the President following a letter he had written requesting her intervention. The government today also published a letter sent by the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat asking for the Commission for the Administration of Justice, which is headed by the President, to rule on the nomination of Dr Zammit Young.

In another development, the Chamber of Advocates lambasted the two nominations saying that the latest problems are a direct consequence of Government’s refusal to change the manner in which the judicature is nominated and chosen.

“With an adequate scrutiny, which is not conditioned by any external pressures or considerations, all this would not have happened, and the recommendations made would be based not only on competence but also on the qualifications established in the Law”.

The Chamber of Advocates is also disappointed that the practice used in the past whereby the President of the Chamber of Advocates was consulted before nominations were effected, is not being followed.

“This practice in itself, was also an instrument whereby any controversial nominations could be avoided. Finally the Chamber of Advocates cannot but question the reason why the Commission for the Administration of Justice was requested to give an opinion, now, after the nominations were announced, when it is clear that the Commission for the Administration of Justice cannot in any way vary what is written in The Constitution and cannot in any way repair the damage done”.

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca "will not proceed with the oath of office of the two appointees" named by the government yesterday as new magistrates, Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil said.

Dr Busuttil's statement after meeting the President

In a statement, Dr Busuttil said:

"I have just met the President of Malta over the two new appointments to the bench endorsed by the Cabinet yesterday. I have informed her that, after the meeting, I will issue a public statement in the interest of transparency.

"I have transmitted to the President the serious concern of the Opposition over these appointments on the grounds that they appear to have been made in breach of the provisions of the Constitution.

"Regarding the appointment of Ingrid Zammit Young it is clear that her appointment is invalid because she is constitutionally precluded from holding the office of Magistrate as she chairs the Emplyment Commission. Moreover, the Commission for the Administration of Justice can only look into whether a person is qualified to hold office but can do nothing if the person is constitutionally precluded from being appointed in the first place. 

"Regarding the appointment of Caroline Farrugia Frendo, who took her oath to practice law in March 2009, it is clear that the constitutional requirement of 7 years has not been respected and therefore even her appointment is invalid. 

"I have been reassured by the President that she will not proceed with the oath of office of the two appointees," Dr Busuttil said.

Currently, the Commssion for the Administration of Justice is meeting on the issue.

President's statement

In a statement the President said she had been informed (by the government) that in the case of one of the magistrates the appointment will be made according to what is stipulated in the constitution while the Commission for the Administration of Justice is being consulted on the second case. 

In response, the Opposition satisfactorily noted the President’s confirmation that the new nominees for Magistrates cannot occur if they are not in line with the constitution.

The PN said that none of these nominees are valid at this stage and await the Prime Minister to revoke their nominations altogether.

***

Earlier

Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil this morning said that he had requested the intervention of the President of the Republic, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, to verify the constitutionality of the appointments of two magistrates announced yesterday.

Dr Busuttil made the announcement via his Twitter account, and this follows the controversy that erupted yesterday when the government said it was appointing Dr Caroline Farrugia Frendo and Ingrid Zammit Young to the Bench.

In his letter, Dr Busuttil said it is his duty to ask for the intervention of the President on this matter.

With regard to Dr Farrugia Frendo, the PN's reservations are about the fact that the law stupilates that lawyers can only be appointed after serving for at least seven years in the profession.


With regard to Dr Zammit Young, the Opposition is arguing that she served as chairman of the Employment and Training Corporation, and that the law lays down that three years have to pass between the end of a chairmanship of corporation and an appointment as a magistrate. This is certainly not the case in Dr Zammit Young's appointment, Dr Busittil said.

Simon Busuttil's letter

On Wednesday, the government said that the appointment of Dr Zammit Young, who was chairman of the Employment and Training Corporation until yesterday, has been referred to the Commission for the Administration of Justice.

The letter sent by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to the Commission for the Administration of Justice regarding the appointment of Dr Zammit Young was published this afternoon. In a statement the government reiterated that it would follow the Commission's advice. But in the letter to the commission Dr Muscat insisted that Dr Zammit Young could be appointed as Magistrate. 

The government also said that the appointment of Dr Farrugia Frendo would be in line with the constitutional requisites. This could mean that the government will wait until after the 23 February to hold the swearing-in ceremony. 

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