Malta’s Chief Justice will retire in nine days time, but the government is yet to appoint his successor.
Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi will be forced to step down when he turns 65 on 8th April 2020, as stipulated in Malta’s constitution. The mandatory retirement age applies to the entire judiciary, including Judges and Magistrates.
The appointment is often subject to intense debate and should have been one of Prime Minister Robert Abela’s first key decisions. It has gone by unnoticed, with Malta still coming to grips with a COVID-19 pandemic.
Choosing a new Chief Justice should have been a major priority. The political crisis that erupted last November following the arrest of Yorgen Fenech in connection to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia is yet to be fully addressed, as are its related cases.
Meanwhile, a major scandal in the police force and a fatal building collapse in Hamrun have also plagued Abela’s first few months as Prime Minister.
Malta’s judicial system has also faced criticism abroad, with the Prime Minister holding far too much power over the selection process. The country’s court cases also have some of the longest delays in Europe.
Large portions of the public have lost faith in Malta’s judiciary with allegations of corruption rarely ever addressed in the courts. A rushed appointment is not what citizens are looking for.
Azzopardi is Malta’s 21st Chief Justice. A former Labour candidate and former president of the Chamber of Advocates, Azzopardi was first made a Judge in 2003 under a Nationalist administration.
His predecessor Silvio Camilleri was an outspoken critic during Joseph Muscat’s administration, who warned that the rule of law was failing to be followed.
Questions sent to Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis were unanswered by the time of publication.