Government, opposition reach agreement on judicial appointments reform

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The government and the opposition have agreed in principle on how future members of the judiciary – including the Chief Justice – are to be appointed in the future.

This agreement has been confirmed through a motion presented in Parliament today, signed by Prime Minister Robert Abela and Opposition Leader Adrian Delia in a show of unity and approved without a vote.

The motion itself primarily serves to appoint Judge Mark Chetcuti as the successor to Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi – who will be retiring on his 65th birthday on 8 April, and to thank Azzopardi for his service.

Judiciary will play key role in future appointments

But in its preamble, Abela and Delia confirm that following discussions, an agreement in principle has been reached on “how new members of the judiciary are to be appointed, and on how a future Chief Justice will be appointed once Mark Chetcuti’s term as Chief Justice ends,” subject to the approval of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.

This reform will require amendments to the Constitution as well as to ordinary legislation. Newsbook.com.mt is informed that new members of the judiciary shall be appointed from a list of suitable candidates drawn up by a committee in which sitting members of the judiciary will form a majority.

The agreement was reached after several meetings involving Abela, Delia, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis and the opposition’s spokesman on constitutional reform Chris Said. President George Vella was also actively involved in the process. Sources told Newsbook.com.mt that the reform aimed to assure the public that future appointments to the judiciary would be done properly and impartially.

The appointment of new members of the judiciary has been the Prime Minister’s prerogative since independence, but this came under increased scrutiny in recent years due to the appointment of various magistrates and judges perceived to be close to the government. Civil society NGO Repubblika has contested the appointment method in court in a case coincidentally heard by Chetcuti, who has referred the case to the European Courts of Justice.

Controversy ‘is uniting us’

Abela and Delia both described the motion as a historic moment during debate in parliament.

“One of the most controversial issues we have faced… is now the subject uniting us,” Abela said.

The Prime Minister also said that when he took office last January, he immediately recognised the need to achieve consensus on the matter, conscious of Judge Azzopardi’s looming retirement.

Zammit Lewis emphasised that the motion had not been an issue of compromise, but of conviction, with the two sides coming together to achieve the best method possible and to appoint the most suitable candidate to the post of Chief Justice.

Opposition seeks similar reforms on other appointments

In their own speeches, Said and Delia both called for similar agreements to be reached on other important public appointments – not least the appointment of a new Police Commissioner. Delia also specifically mentioned reforms on the method through which the Attorney General and the Chief Electoral Commissioner are appointed.

Parliament is actually scheduled to vote on the government’s proposed method to appoint a new commissioner this evening, but the opposition has signalled its disagreement, having proposed appointing a police chief through a two-thirds parliamentary vote.

However, Zammit Lewis insisted that there was a difference between a Police Commissioner and a Chief Justice, as the latter represented the state, and that this was why the government treated the two differently.