The Malta Independent 23 February 2020, Sunday

Venice Commission accepts request to aid in review of Malta’s legal, institutional structures

Kevin Schembri Orland Wednesday, 17 October 2018, 08:43 Last update: about 2 years ago

The Venice Commission will accept government’s request to aid in a review of Malta's legal and institutional structures.

Last Saturday, Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government Owen Bonnici sent a letter to President of the Venice Commission Gianni Buquicchio saying that, "over the past months, law enforcement, investigation and prosecution setups of Malta have been the object of criticism, alleging they lack effectiveness and independence. These structures are not based on a model which is unique to Malta, but Malta is open to a process of Constitutional reform which may update these structures as may be necessary in order to ensure compliance with common European standards and approaches."

"In light of the above, the government of Malta would like to seek the assistance of the Venice Commission in particular to conduct a review of Malta's legal and institutional structures of law enforcement, investigation and prosecution in light of the need to secure proper checks and balances, and the independence and neutrality of the institutions and their staff, whilst also securing their effectiveness and democratic accountability," the letter read.

Following this letter, this newsroom wrote to the Venice Commission, asking it to confirm whether they did indeed receive the letter - which they did on Monday – whether they would accept the request – to which they said yes – and for information as to what kind of assistance the Commission will provide. The Commission, in response to the latter, said that a legal opinion from the Venice Commission would probably be adopted in December.”

While Bonnici sent the request on Saturday, it is pertinent to note that a similar request was also made a few days prior, by another body within the Council of Europe.

According to a statement seen on the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly website, the Legal Affairs Committee on 8 October held a hearing on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law, in Malta and beyond.

While a second hearing is scheduled in January 2019 with the participation of representatives of the Maltese authorities, “The committee also requested a Venice Commission opinion on Malta’s constitutional arrangements on the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary and law enforcement bodies.”

Malta’s institutional and investigative bodies have been under heavy scrutiny ever since the Panama Papers revelations, where Minister Konrad Mizzi was found to have had a company in the secretive jurisdiction of Panama, and so was Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri. The two are still in top government positions. Further to this, other questions arose over Pilatus Bank, and the questions regarding the effectiveness of Malta’s law enforcement agencies took another hit with the situations surrounding the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

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