The Malta Independent 16 July 2019, Tuesday

Having magistrate investigating corruption differs from Venice Commission proposal - Bonnici

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 10 February 2019, 09:00 Last update: about 6 months ago

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici has said that the idea of an independent special inquiring magistrate to investigate and prosecute corruption is at odds with the idea proposed by the Venice Commission, but PN MP Jason Azzopardi disagrees.

Recently, PN MP Jason Azzopardi brought up the introduction of such a magistrate in Parliament. He called for the establishment of a Special Inquiring Magistrate, chosen by the President of the Republic, for cases of corruption through an ad-hoc law. The magistrate’s job will be only to investigate, fight and prosecute cases of corruption, and that he would have the right to appoint his own staff and open investigations as he sees fit. This was necessary, he said, because it is evident that the Police Commissioner is "in Joseph Muscat's pocket" and will not carry out investigations into such matters.  

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The Malta Independent on Sunday asked Owen Bonnici for the government’s position on the idea of having such a Magistrate.

Bonnici said that every investigating Magistrate has the power to conduct an inquiry on any crime that carries a prison term of more than three years, which also includes corruption.

“If there is a crime of corruption, every magistrate, not just one, has the power to conduct such an inquiry,” the minister said.

It is pertinent to note that Maltese magistrates do not have the power to launch such an inquiry on their own initiative.

The minister added: “The idea of having a magistrate focused on corruption did not arise now. In past governments, there were people who proposed this idea. We requested advice from the Venice commission regarding the legal setup of our country. The Venice Commission’s idea is not in this direction, but rather 5rtecomends that inquiries are handled by a prosecutor general. The Venice Commission’s idea is to remove inquiries from magistrates and they would pass to a prosecutor general. This proposal goes in the opposite direction of the proposal made by the Venice commission.”

Asked whether he supports the Venice Commission’s proposal, the minister said: “Naturally all that was proposed by the Venice Commission is being discussed between the two sides of Parliament both in the context of the Constitutional Convention and outside of it, and so at this stage I will stop here.”

Jason Azzopardi, speaking to this newsroom, disagrees with the minister, saying that one does not exclude the other. “In Italy, this is the system that is followed and it does not run counter to the Council of Europe’s recommendations. If it is OK in Italy or France, why is it not OK in Malta?”

“The idea is to have an inquiring magistrate who would have the power to initiate, on his or her own initiative, investigations into cases of corruption. If such cases come to the prosecution stage in court, it would be he or she who prosecutes, as happens in Italy. What is most important is that this inquiring magistrate, whose sole remit will be cases of corruption, would have the power, authority to initiate investigations on his own steam without the need for a report to be filed by the police, the Attorney General or a citizen. This inquiring magistrate should have his own staff which he or she would choose.”

He said that back in 1997, the PL wanted to introduce this idea, having read the first reading of a Bill on the issue. He said that it had never reached the second reading stage. “If it was good for the PL in 1997, why is it not good for the PL in 2019?”

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