Government’s proposals to appease Venice Commission recommendations will erode checks and balances of Malta’s judiciary, passing on supreme power to unelected officials, leading reformist Franco Debono has warned.
In a letter to the Venice Commission, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis revealed that the country will take the power of judicial appointments away from the executive, who make the final decision after recommendations from the Judicial Appointments Committee.
Under new rules, the JAC will propose three candidates to the President, who will be tasked with making the final choice on the judicial appointment.
Debono, who has long worked holistic reform justice and constitutional, insists that while the Commission’s recommendations might look good on paper, it is not tailormade for Maltese realities of a parliamentary system.
Members of the judiciary are not elected and cannot be removed by the people, destroying any sense of checks and balances of the judicial arm of the state, Debono explains.
“We’re talking about how we do not trust politicians? But we cannot forget that we’ve had three senior judges resign and taken to court in the last two decades.”
“There are many good judges but we have to keep this in mind. This is why checks and balances have to be in place,” Debono said.
Three judges, including a Chief Justice, have been found guilty of taking bribes over the last two decades. Meanwhile, two others have faced impeachment proceedings.
Giving the power to appoint members of the judiciary to the President is also an academic fallacy in Malta. The President, he says, is also an unelected official and only extreme cases will see their removal.
To facilitate the change in procedure, major changes will need to be made to the role of the President. That would take at least four years, Debono explains, with the current President only selected in 2019.
Debono backs the current system in place, stressing that the system simply needs fine-tuning. It should not be blamed for the mistakes of the past.
“The wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented, it needs to be tailormade to the realities, history and facts of the country,” he said.