The Malta Independent 5 December 2020, Saturday

‘I cannot say Peter Grech did not do his duty as AG’, Justice Minister says

Kevin Schembri Orland Friday, 2 October 2020, 15:40 Last update: about 3 months ago

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis told the Malta Independent that he cannot say Peter Grech did not do his duty as Attorney General.

Zammit Lewis was taking questions from this newsroom after a press conference over the new Attorney General's offices.

"I wouldn't say he failed in his duty," Zammit Lewis said. "Peter Grech tried to do his best. It was interpreted and there were circumstances which he might not have had control over, but I cannot say that Peter Grech did not do his duty as Attorney General."

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Asked how he would rate Peter Grech's performance as Attorney General, Zammit Lewis refused to answer, stating: "I am not here to conduct a beauty contest to rate people." This newsroom told the minister that Grech was one of the most controversial Attorney Generals Malta has had, to which he said: "Peter Grech was criticised a lot. He is a gentleman who tried to do his duty. There are those who did not agree with him on how he did this."

"Today he left the post and I believe that he was a public official who tried to do his duty at a time which was a bit controversial. People had the opinions they had and everyone has a right to their own opinions."

Peter Grech was Attorney General up until earlier this year, but was heavily criticised in the press for inaction, or late action, on a number of government scandals. Victoria Buttigieg has now taken over the post of AG.

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis was asked also by this newsroom about another topic, whether he, personally, would be in favour of a Status of Forces Agreement with the USA.

It was reported in the press that the government was moving towards signing such an agreement with the United States of America, possibly as a way to instigate a more favourable American review of Malta in the Moneyval assessment later this year. A SOFA agreement establishes the rights and privileges of foreign personnel, including the military, in the host country - in this case, Malta. The SOFA deal reportedly being considered proposes a form of "concurrent jurisdiction", which would allow both Maltese and American courts to have jurisdiction over United States personnel and equipment in Malta.

Prime Minister Robert Abela had previously denied that any such agreement has yet been signed, and also said that that the two issues are "distinct from one another."

Answering the question put by this newsroom, Zammit Lewis said: "We are speculating over nothing. There is no official draft agreement that was negotiated, and whoever is commenting on something that does not exist is not doing any good. It is in Malta's interest to have good relations with the USA, but obviously we must safeguard other things that are close to our heart, like the country's neutrality. I would be in favour of an agreement that would still be in favour of our country's neutrality."

Asked whether he denies that such an agreement was discussed in Cabinet, he said that he cannot say what was said in Cabinet. "I think it is clear that discussions took place, but I do not speak about discussions rather on facts. As a fact, there is nothing, but I assure you that Robert Abela's government does not make any agreement that does not safeguard the country's neutrality."

He said that it was a Labour Government that had, in 1987, guaranteed the country's neutrality in the Constitution.

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