Need to split roles of the Attorney General is urgent – Bonnici

Luke Zerafa

The Minister for Justice Owen Bonnici has told Newsbook.com.mt that he has no problem with engaging the public on the implementations of the Venice Commission but said that such a consultation should not ‘be an excuse to prolong matters.’

Minister Bonnici stressed that, ‘What needs to be legislated upon ASAP, needs to be legislated upon ASAP,’ referring to the current splitting of the dual roles of the Attorney General.

Bonnici provided these comments following an event observing restoration works of the fortifications at St Francis Lunette in Floriana.

Questions presented to the Minister on this occasion came following a previous interview carried out by Newsbook.com.mt in which he was asked to provide details regarding whether there would be a consultation, even of a public nature, on the Venice Commission’s proposals.

Minister Bonnici had told Newsbook.com.mt at the time that using the directions given by the Venice Commission, the government would implement them, ‘in transitional phases and after due consultation with various stakeholders.’

Seeking clarity on these ‘transitional phases’, the Minister explained to Newsbook.com.mt that the ‘whole list of subjects’ had been outlined in the first reading in Parliament, which also saw the implementation of the first stage to separate the dual roles of the Attorney General.

Newsbook.com.mt was given to understand that the separation of the prosecutorial and advisory roles of this office would be completed by Summer 2020.

Minister Bonnici stressed that phased implementations would be needed not to ‘paralyse the system.’

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Who are the stakeholders?

When asked to clarify whom he referred to as the ‘various stakeholders,’ Minister Bonnici said that he had already invited talks with the Opposition, the Chamber of Advocates ‘and other entities,’ stressing that these entities had already presented their positions.

Newsbook.com.mt followed up on this answer saying that these were government bodies and authorities, that didn’t appear to include public involvement in the consultation.

Minister Bonnici responded saying that the process was open to the general public ‘and to give their opinion.’

‘We’re always open to hear what the public has to say on issues related to the rule of law.’

I am all in favour of consultation, no problem absolutely’ – Bonnici

To stress his point, Bonnici referrred to the 2013 Bonello Commission on the reform of the Justice system. A consultation which, he said, did include the general public in its implementation.

Further to this, the Minister added that the Constitutional Convention, which was launched in November 2018, had  ‘already met a number of players’ whom he said included representatives from the Partit Demokratiku and Repubblika.

However, when asked about whether there would be some kind of information campaigns or public events to inform the public about the implementations of the Venice Commission, Minister Bonnici was not specific about when, how or if there be one. He stressed instead that the the report was ‘public’ and that ‘people have the liberty to discuss the report.’

‘I am all in favour of consultation, no problem absolutely’ Dr Bonnici said.

Legal safeguards

With the next General election in Malta set for 2022, Newsbook.com.mt asked the Minister to explain if there would be a legal guarantee that Venice Commission implementations would continue even if the current government was voted out of office.

The Minister answered that he did not wish to hypothesize a future scenario instead saying that the government ‘had all intentions to legislate and move forward change.’

Dr Bonnici then chose to focus on the improved trust levels in Malta’s judiciary, which had been outlined in the EU’s Justice scoreboard.

According to the report, public perceptions of Malta’s judiciary as independent, had risen to 56%.

Credit: THE 2019 EU JUSTICE
SCOREBOARD

3 in every 1,000 inhabitants are lawyers

Poor track record on money laundering

Newsbook.com.mt highlighted that although trust in the independence of the judiciary might be up, its success on dealing with money laundering cases was poor.

The Minister responded to this saying, ‘we need to expedite more, not only money laundering. There are other cases we need to expedite.’

He pointed out that the judiciary benches in Malta were sparsely populated. ‘This is why we need judges and magistrates to do the work… you cannot criticize the government for scoring poorly on certain categories of cases and then stop the government from appointing judges and magistrates in order to expedite the work. You can’t have both. You need judges and magistrates to do the work. Malta has to second lowest number of judges and magistrates to do the work, we need people to do the work and expedite matters. So, i’m all in favour of anything which expedites the judicial process.’