The Malta Independent 4 August 2020, Tuesday

Bedingfield for President? Repubblika shoots down bills for judicial reform

Karl Azzopardi Tuesday, 7 July 2020, 11:23 Last update: about 27 days ago

Repubblika believes that the new bills that the government issued as part of the proposed judicial reforms will retain the government’s control and increase threat to democracy, mockingly suggesting that, with these reforms, Prime Minister Robert Abela can decide to appoint Glenn Bedingfield as President.

During last Wednesday’s parliamentary session, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis tabled 10 bills which involve constitutional and legal reforms in line with the recommendations made by the Venice Commission. These bills include changes in the Constitution of Malta for the appointment of the President of Malta as well as judges and magistrates.

ADVERTISEMENT

One bill calls for an ACT to provide for the amendments of the Constitution of Malta relative to the appointment of the President of Malta.

Repubblika released a statement in which it reacted to these bills saying that at face value the government’s bills implement its commitment with the Venice Commission to decrease the control of the government on the judicial appointments committee. Additionally, it has withdrawn its power of deciding on the final nominees presented by the judicial committee, giving the President a final choice between three shortlisted candidates identified by the committee.

However, Repubblika believe that the bills published by the government reveal the duplicitous intent of the government as it is proposing a procedure whereby its nominee for the Presidency is voted upon twice in the hope of a two-thirds majority. Should its candidate fail to be elected in two voting rounds, the government can then proceed to appoint its candidate anyway.

“This is a sick joke,” Repubblika stated. “By way of example and for purely illustrative purposes Robert Abela can decide to appoint Glenn Bedingfield as President.  The Opposition would have two opportunities to agree and support the choice. If the Opposition doesn’t agree, Robert Abela can appoint Glenn Bedingfield as President of Malta anyway.”

Repubblika said that no way can it be claimed that this ‘reformed’ method is an improvement on the current setup, or that this procedure in any way reduces the authority of the government to choose alone who is President, or that it ensures the independence of the Presidency from the government of the day.

“This was not a major issue while the President retained a purely ceremonial function. But now that the government is proposing to assign executive and autonomous authority to the President, precisely in order to remove it from the government of the day, the manner of appointing the President has become a matter of national importance,” the NGO concluded.

It believes that Malta could look at models of choosing non-executive presidents of other democracies. Another alternative would be the formation of an electoral college that extends beyond members of the House of Representatives and includes Mayors and Local Councillors and, when and if such an entity is formed, members of a standing Council of State.

“The choice of the manner of choosing the President requires proper national debate and would need to be considered in the context of all the other reforms being considered for our Constitution,” Repubblika said.

The same applies for the Chief Justice, Reppublika added, who could be appointed directly by the branch of government they are nominated to lead; the judiciary.

“We don’t agree with any role for Parliament in the nomination of the Chief Justice. Government’s proposal will only embed political intrusion on judicial independence in the Constitution. While cross-party consensus is not a guarantee of judicial independence, it may reduce the nomination of the Chief Justice to a back room deal between the two main political leaders.”

Repubblik thinks that with these bills, the government has ignored the invitation of the Venice Commission to run these Bills by it before publication while also abandoning its promises to call a Constitutional Convention before making vital changes to the way our country is run.

“Only Parliament can stop this Constitutional hatchet job in its tracks, and we urge MPs to send the government back to the drawing board and insist on proper consultation before implementing these important measures.”

  • don't miss