Report to Venice Commission is first step towards constitutional reform – CSN

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The new reforms announced by the Government finally seem to be a step in the right direction towards European standards for our democracy, said the Civil Society Network, CSN, in a statement issued on Thursday.

The CSN said that the reforms follow the same direction which CSN has been appealing for since the first protests in 2017.

“Finally, after international advice, the Government has started to move away from constitutional procedures which did not meet a sufficient democratic standard, and which many times fell victim to abuse from corruption and bad governance,” said the anti-corruption group.

The Civil Society Network said that it now awaits for a public consultation held in a parliamentary forum, so that both the Government and the Opposition can be represented, but also members of civil society. It was also stated that this is only the first step as they would still like to see further parliamentary scrutiny and not only positions filled by the executive branch.

It was also noted by CSN that powers vested from the Prime Minister alone to the Cabinet may be insufficient and that the Maltese Parliament, which represents the people, should have a more active say. In view of this, it was suggested that appointments requiring a two-thirds parliamentary majority should be ideally extended to other roles.

Furthermore, the CSN said that the President should ideally be given more powers to defend the Constitution and would be able, together with the Courts, to take action against breaches, including incompatible legislation.

The Civil Society Network would also like to see the introduction of some form of the legal principle of determining points, of binding precedent.  It was argued that as it is used globally, Malta should not be the exception as countries like France, with a strong civil law culture, have also moved towards it.

CSN also hopes that civil society will truly have a voice in the reform of the Maltese Constitution.

Recommendations by the Chamber of Advocates taken on board

The Chamber expressed its satisfaction at the proposals made by Government particularly those relating to judicial appointments, which have taken on board almost all the recommendations made by the Chamber in its consultation process with the Minister for Justice.

That the new system of judicial appointments, with the exception of the appointment of the Chief Justice, will have no political motivation or undertone, and that the recommendations of the Judicial Appointments Committee will be made directly to the President of the Republic who will then select, on the basis of the recommendations made by the JAC, is an encouraging move, which finally removes any say of the political class in judicial appointments, stated the Chamber of Advocates.

The Chamber noted that the only point where the Chamber’s recommendations were not implemented relates to the appointment of the Chief Justice.

There are, of course, issues that still need to be addressed and which may not have been raised by the Venice Commission in its 2018 opinion, but which remain very relevant for the overall checks and balances and the current system of judicial appointments, said the Chamber of Advocates.