The European Court of Justice has begun hearing a case brought by civil society activists over whether a system of appointing judges breached EU laws.

A 15-judge panel heard from lawyers for NGO Repubblika and the government on Tuesday and will give their conclusions on December 17.

The NGO is challenging the system by which judges and magistrates were previously appointed, saying the system gave the prime minister "arbitrary discretion" when selecting candidates.

It referred specifically to a number of appointments from April 2019, which it argues should be ruled invalid. 

Justice Mark Chetcuti had referred the matter to the ECJ last year.

Listing a series of decisions by then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, lawyer for Repubblika Jason Azzopardi argued there were “legitimate doubts” about the “impermeability” and “neutrality” of the judges involved. 

He also noted that the law has since been changed from a system that gave full power to the prime minister, to one that gives the prime minister “no power at all”. 

He said: “Three months after removing a law, something that happened because of the Repubblika case, the government is here defending it. Why did the government change the system if it is here today to tell us that it was a good one?” 

The government was represented by Spanish lawyers Daniel Sarmiento, a professor of EU and administrative law, and Victor Ferreres Comella.  

One of the court's advocate generals is now expected to deliver an opinion on December 17. A final decision is then expected next year. 

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