The Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said that the Government agrees and intends on implementing the newly published Opinion by the Venice Commission which includes stripping the role of Prime Minister of a number of powers. This including judicial appointments being passed on from the Judicial Appointment Committee to the President directly; and that Members of Parliament should be employed on a full-time basis.
Last week, the Venice Commission (The European Commission for Democracy through Law) called for more checks and balances to ensure respect of the rule of law in Malta. This Commission is the Council of Europe’s consultative board regarding constitutional affairs. The Commission specifically said that Malta needs changes in the role of the Prime Minister, President, the judiciary, the parliament, and the ombudsman.
While making an official reactionary statement in the form of a pre-recorded video, flanked by Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, Muscat insisted that the Opinion was a positive one for this Government. The Prime Minister said that the structures which the Venice Commission are focusing on are ones which were established generations ago, and which this Government inherited.
Among the numerous changes, there were some which could be worked on in discussion with the Opposition and be pushed relatively quickly; such as making sure that the Ombudsman can be given more Constitutional strength. This latter point was explained by the Justice Minister who took questions after the video was shown to the media present.
Muscat gave a summarised break down of the recommendations including the establishment of the Public Prosecutor’s office, thus removing part of the Attorney General’s current role, while the Police remain responsible for investigation. The removal of Judges or Magistrates should also be removed from Parliament, leaving the responsible Commission to come to a decision.
The Opinion pointed out that part-time Parliamentarians cannot possibly do their job to the best of their capacity, so the Prime Minister mentioned giving MPs more resources. Positions of Trust must also be regulated by the Constitution, giving a legal basis and parameters for people in those positions.
Although it was the general consensus that the Government agreed with the published opinion “in general”, despite repeated pressure from Newsbook.com.mt, the Minister would not confirm that they agree with every single point. Bonnici’s reasoning being that they received it two hours before the media, and since they have not been able to communicate with all concerned parties, the most they can say is that they agree “in general”.
The Minister said, prior to opening the floor for questions, that when Malta acceded into the EU, it passed all the prerequisites of the Copenhagen criteria. When it came to priorities, Bonnici conceded that it was too early to have any sort of priority list in place, but that there were some proposals which could be done after discussion; others which would need a transitional period, as suggested by the Commission; and other changes which need Qualified Majority Voting in Parliament.