The Malta Independent 20 June 2019, Thursday

Justice Minister to table bill splitting role of Attorney General

Kevin Schembri Orland Thursday, 21 March 2019, 12:09 Last update: about 4 months ago

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici today announced that the government will be tabling a Bill in Parliament to split the role of the Attorney General, following recommendations which were made by the Venice commission a few months ago. He also announced that government is working on a number of other proposals it intends to pass by the end of the year.

The Council of Europe's Venice Commission had adopted an opinion which found that the power of the Prime Minister in Malta widely overshadows other government bodies, including the President, Parliament, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Judiciary and the Ombudsman.

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Among other things, the Commission’s report said the wide powers of appointments that the Prime Minister - as an office - enjoys, make this institution too powerful and create a serious risk to the rule of law. It also recommended that the AG’s powers be split, and said that reforms started by this government were not sufficient and that positions of trust should be limited.

The role of the European Commission for Democracy through Law - better known as the Venice Commission - is to provide legal advice to its member states and, in particular, to help states wishing to bring their legal and institutional structures into line with European standards and international experience in the fields of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

In a press conference today, the minister announced the government’s upcoming plans to tackle these recommendations. He said that Cabinet has given him a mandate to start the legislative process which will split the prosecutorial functions of the Attorney General from the civil functions.

He said that government agreed with the bulk of proposals of the Venice Commission.

He said that the bill will, for the first time in history, see someone separate specifically responsible for the prosecutorial functions, different to the lawyer and legal consultant to the government of the day.

The first reading of this bill will be on Monday, he said, adding that government will be informing the European Commission, the Venice Commission and the EU Parliament.  He said that they will also inform these institutions that, as a priority, government is also looking into reforming the methods for appointment and removal of the judiciary.

“The change in these systems, that constitute a basis of our legal system and have been with us for generations, could occur only through agreement by a two-thirds Parliamentary majority. That is why we are starting a consultation process with the Opposition to find consensus,” he said. He noted that the change regarding the Attorney General does not require a two-thirds Parliamentary majority.

Cabinet also gave him a mandate to, by next Monday, start the legislative process to make amendments, which also follow after recommendations by the Venice Commission, regarding the Ombudsman, Permanent Secretaries, positions of trust, independent commissions and the police.

The respective bills, he said, will be published at a later date and government’s aim is for them to be approved by the end of the year. Many of these amendments require agreement through a two-thirds majority in Parliament, he said.

Bonnici said that the government is reformist. “From the first day elected, we implemented a number of reforms years in the making, including party donations and keeping politicians accountable against corruption. From the whistleblower law to changes to how members of the judiciary are appointed.”

Asked by The Malta Independent how the person in charge of the prosecutorial functions will be selected once split off from the Attorney General, he said that the Venice Commission went into this and indicated that the present system of appointing the prosecutor general (the current Attorney General) is good. He said that all governments until now appointed people from the office itself, the next in line from the office itself.

 

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