The Malta Independent 18 August 2019, Sunday

Updated: President urges more Venice Commission changes as new judges, magistrates are sworn in

Jeremy Micallef Thursday, 25 April 2019, 18:12 Last update: about 5 months ago

President George Vella has urged the government to draft and implement other Venice Commission recommendations during his speech at the swearing-in ceremony of three new judges and three new magistrates.

Magistrates Francesco Depasquale, Joanne Vella Cuschieri and Aaron Bugeja have been sworn in as judges while lawyers Nadine Lia, Victor Axiak and Bridgette Sultana have become magistrates.

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Whilst noting the praise from the Venice Commission, President Vella urged for more recommendations to be implemented.

Thursday’s ceremony was held after an injunction filed by activist group Repubblika, which said that no judicial appointments should take place before the system is reformed, was turned down by a court.

The President suggested these changes so that the appointments made are merited in the eyes of the people.

The appointments will bring the total number of judges to 24 while the number of magistrates will remain at 22. More than 50% of them are women.

Speaking at the inauguration, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici explained that they are all there with one goal – that they use their position for the better of the public, at the service of the public.

Government failed to consult Opposition – Delia

The government has yet again pushed ahead with the appointment of new judges and magistrates without consulting the Opposition, PN Leader Adrian Delia said in a statement.

Furthermore, these appointments were made before the government implemented the recommendations put forward by the Venice Commissions.

Delia said the commission had made it clear that the present system of appointing new members of the judiciary needs to change. Instead of listening to these recommendations, the PM chose to appoint new members using a bad system that  is leading to a situation where the government has power over the judiciary.

The PM and the Justice Minister do not truly want an independent judiciary, Delia said, but want to control those appointed to the bench for their personal and political aims.

The Opposition would not accept that such needed reforms are destroyed before they are even implemented. And it will never back fictitious reforms that are only aimed at giving more control to the government.

 

Government reaction

Referring to the injunctions, the government said it was ironic “that the two members of the Opposition left no stone unturned to halt the appointments from taking place, despite the fact that they themselves, in Parliament, back in 2016 voted in favour of the same method of appointment with which those new members of the judiciary were sworn in.”

“More so, through their actions, the two Opposition MPs are saying that all members of the judiciary which were appointed by successive governments, including that which they used to form part of and using a system which was less transparent than the present one, are not impartial or independent. This is an unprecedented fierce attack on the Judiciary,” the statement read.

“It has to be reminded that following Constitutional changes which were unanimously approved in the House of Representatives in by means of Act XLIV of 2016 which entered into force on the 5th of August 2016, appointments to the judiciary could only be undertaken following a written advice from the Judiciary Appointment Committee which is made up of the Chief Justice, the Auditor General, the Ombudsman and the President of the Chamber of Advocates. Both Busuttil and Azzopardi had voted in favour and approved this system which is more transparent than that which had been utilised by the various governments until then. This new system was also described as a positive step forward by the Venice Commission.

 

It is bewildering how the two Opposition MPs are against the use of the method which they had themselves voted in favour,” the government said. 

 

Photos: Alenka Falzon

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