Updated at 5.10pm, adds Adrian Delia's statement

The government is to launch a constitutional amendment so that the functions of Prosecutor General will be hived off from those of the Attorney General.

The changes appear to be similar to what had been proposed by a Nationalist government in May 2002, and rejected by the Labour Opposition at the time.

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said on Thursday that the proposal for a constitutional amendment had been made by the Venice Commission on the rule of law in Malta.

He said the government hoped to see legislation through by the summer. The first reading will be moved on Monday.

In terms of the change, the person responsible for prosecutions will be separate from the attorney general, who is the government's legal counsel.

He noted that once in place, the selection for the persons for the two roles would be based on the existing mechanism of choosing the AG, on which he said, the commission had no issues.

READ: What rule of law experts said about Malta - and why it matters

Apart from the AG’s dual role, the commission had flagged the excessive powers held by the Prime Minister, the mechanism used to appoint members of the judiciary saying it did not guarantee full independence from the executive.

Dr Bonnici said the government would also reform the method for appointing and removal of members of the judiciary as suggested by the commission. While declining to give any details of the model being proposed, the Justice Minister noted that such changed would require the Opposition to be on board as it required the approval of two-thirds of MPs. In view of this, a consultation process will be launched soon.

Dr Bonnici also announced that on Monday he would be rolling out the legislative process to address other areas flagged by the Venice Commission. These comprise the role of the Ombudsman, permanent secretaries, positions of trust, independent commissions and the police force.

The respective Bills will be published in due course with the objective of enacting the changes by the end of this year, the minister said. In most of these cases too, a two-thirds majority would be needed for the changes to be made. 

Asked about other matters flagged by the commission which were not mentioned in the news conference, Dr Bonnici noted that at this stage government was focusing on a third of the issues raised. He added that once these changes would be implemented the government would focus on the rest of the recommendations. 

Government has to implement reform it has been resisting - Opposition

In a statement, Opposition leader Adrian Delia said that because the government had not listened immediately, the only measure taking place by June was the hiving off of the functions of Prosecutor General from those of the Attorney General. Other reforms would not be implemented before the end of the year.

He said concrete measures to strengthen democracy and ensure the independence of the country's institutions were needed.

The people, he said, were awaiting serious changes which could give the country back its creditability. They also wanted institutions that worked with transparency and meritocracy.

The Nationalist Party would make sure that the government would really implement the Venice Commission recommendations, which were clear and similar to those the Opposition had been requesting and which the government had resisted.

The Venice Commission conclusions clearly showed the Prime Minister was taking power from the institutions, controlling them and hindering their autonomy to the detriment of the rule of law.

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