I refer to the recent articles by Giovanni Bonello and Kevin Aquilina on the matter of ‘presidential pardons’ and the ‘prerogative of mercy’.

I do not think that I am in a position to arbitrate between the two esteemed jurists, however, I feel it is my duty to contribute to the debate by sharing my half-penny worth of thoughts on the matter.

I must say that the view held at the AG’s office when I joined that institution in December 1978 was that as expounded by Aquilina. The attorney general at that time was Edgar Mizzi; the same view was held by his successors, Victor Borg Costanzi, Joseph G. Borg and Carmelo Testa as well as myself who served as AG between 1989 and 2004, when I moved to the European Court of Justice.

During my time as AG, I was lucky to make use of the services of two successive deputies (the future chief justices), Vincent A. Degaetano and Silvio Camilleri, none of them ever raised any question on the tenability of the orthodox interpretation of the constitution as re-expounded by Aquilina in his articles.

This interpretation of the constitution, has, as far as I can discern, also been followed by my successors up to date. I am also comforted in my views by what Tonio Borg has to say on the matter in his A Commentary on the Constitution of Malta (second edition, pages 489,490,510 and 511) where he clearly reflects the widely accepted position expounded by Aquilina.

Of course, I, as well as all the above-mentioned, could be wrong. A beautiful thing about my profession, however, is the feeling, illusory or otherwise, when one is in a minority, that one is in the group that are smart enough to have got it right when everybody else got it wrong!

I may be wrong but, in my view, President Myriam Spiteri Debono did not enjoy any discretion in the matter and signed the pardon as advised by the government.

Bonello and Aquilina, however, seem to agree on something. That is the need for a better regulation of the prerogative, in particular when a pardon is given to a wide section of the population (even before the pardoned have been tried and sentenced in court), practically abrogating, for the particular cases, the penal norms enacted by parliament to safeguard the interests of society in general and this without the benefit of parliamentary debate or scrutiny. I agree.

Anthony Borg Barthet, former attorney general and former judge at the European Court of Justice – Attard

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