Venice Commission: Justice Minister announces new State Attorney role

DOI / Kevin Abela

The Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government has announced the creation of the new role of State Attorney.

The new role outlined by Minister Owen Bonnici, is a product of the separation of the dual roles of the existing Attorney General, which was presented as a proposal by the Venice Commission back in November 2018.

According to the minister, the new State Attorney will retain the role of legal adviser to the government acting through an ‘independent agency established by law’, providing legal opinion. They ‘will be explicitly obliged to act in the public interest and safeguard the legality of the state actions,’ Minister Bonnici explained.

Parliament starts legislative process on Venice Commission recommendations

The move is part of a new government Bill of measures changing Malta’s constitution and institutions.

The Minister had announced the government’s decision to separate the roles of the Attorney General in March and that it would be taking legal steps to implement the plans into law by Summer 2020.

Updated: Attorney General role will be split; first legal steps due next week

Parliament starts legislative process on Venice Commission recommendations

Selection and Recommendation

As for the role’s appointment, the State Attorney would be recommended by an Appointment Commission which would come following a public call for applications. The Prime Minister would then be obliged to give consideration to the Commission’s recommendations. This would be done before the President presents their recommendation.

Minister Bonnici explained that the same procedure would be used for the selection of future Attorney General. Under this reformed role, the AG would see increased duties and powers in prosecution.  These would include instructing the police to carry out investigations and demand information on on-going ones. The AG would also be able ‘to issue any charge for any crime.’ They will also be granted the right to be take up the prosecutorial role.

According to the Minister, discussions over the separation over the dual roles of the Attorney General had been ongoing since 1936. It was still part of the Maltese constitution even after independence, Bonnici explained.

Procedural independence

Bonnici explained that the Act would also look to separate the investigative capabilities of the police and prosecutorial bodies, ensuring ‘more independence’. The view is that Court prosecutions would be part of the Attorney General’s mandate, in the future.

These maneuvers are understood to be met with a series of transitional phases, ‘with the aim that changes are made in an orderly fashion and in a manner to avoid disputes in the prosecution and Government legal services sectors, which are essential for governance and general public order.’

Make change ASAP recently caught up with the Minister to obtain more information and clarifications on whether the public would be involved in the consultations on the Venice Commission.

Bonnici said that he had 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.

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

He explained that he had no problem with consultations referring 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.

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.’