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Prime Minister’s Personal Lawyer Disciplining Judges Is Not Against Constitution, Says President Of Malta

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The Prime Minister’s personal lawyer sitting on a board that disciplines judges is not against the Constitution, so changing this status quo would require constitutional reform, President George Vella has argued.

He made the comments to Lovin Malta when asked whether he was comfortable with the many hats worn by Pawlu Lia, who is an active lawyer defending several high profile political cases while sitting on the Commission for the Administration of Justice (CAJ).

The CAJ is headed by the President and is mainly composed of members of the judiciary. It allows the government and the Opposition to appoint their own members. However, these are usually former members of the judiciary, rather than active lawyers running very sensitive cases. 

Lia’s position on the CAJ has raised concerns in the legal world.

A source who spoke to Lovin Malta some months ago said: “Pawlu Lia has the ear of the Prime Minister, which means magistrates who want to become judges, or judges who want a promotion from the government, see him as a go-between. He effectively holds both the carrot and the stick when it comes to the Maltese judiciary. He is perceived as someone who can help them get what they want while also being instrumental in disciplining them.”

Asked about this situation, Vella said: “The CAJ is composed in strict conformity with Art. 101A of the Constitution of Malta which was introduced by Act IX of 1994. If one feels there should be changes to what this provision of the Constitution lays out, one should make such proposal to the Committee for the Reform of the Constitution.”

A few days ago, the President launched a website which will serve as a consultation platform for constitutional reform. It allows users to submit their proposals.

The President’s response came after Lovin Malta sent the following questions: 

1. Does the President agree that Pawlu Lia is a problematic choice for the CAJ given the many conflicting hats he wears and the fact that he is not only an active lawyer but a key political player as lawyer to Muscat personally and the Labour Party? Can’t this cause undue influence on other members of the Commission? 

2. Does it make sense for there to be an active lawyer on the CAJ regularly meeting with judges and magistrates (including the Chief Justice), while then being able to plead cases for his clients in front of these same members of the judiciary, while other lawyers only access the judiciary via a court registrar? 

3. While other members of the CAJ are either judges, magistrates or retired ones, don’t you agree that having a political figure with clear bias has no place in such a forum and could dent the CAJ’s credibility? 

4. Doesn’t having the Prime Minister’s personal lawyer on the CAJ create a blurring of lines between judiciary and government?  

5. Isn’t it strange to talk about Constitutional reform and the separation of powers if you accept this status quo as the head of the CAJ? 

What do you think about the President’s response?

READ NEXT: Want To Change The Most Important Laws In Malta? Here’s A Chance To Have Your Say

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