Halting judicial appointments until the Venice Commission’s recommendations are implemented would be tantamount to asking for the courts to be paralysed, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Friday.

In a reply to the demand by civil society group Repubblika to halt the appointment of three magistrates and three judges, Dr Muscat said it was not in the best interest of the administration of justice and the respect for the rule of law if this request was upheld.

Dr Muscat said it was "absurd" to ask the court to declare appointments under the current system as null.

The six new members of the judiciary were sworn in on Thursday afternoon in spite of a court decree accepting to hear with urgency the application for the appointments to be halted.

Dr Muscat said in his reply that the Venice Commission had given its recommendations on how judicial appointments could be improved.

He said the Commission acknowledged the Judicial Appointments Committee introduced in 2016 and unanimously approved by Parliament was a good system, and like any other system it could be improved.

Nowhere in its December opinion did the Commission say the current system was compromised or that the judiciary was not guaranteed independence or impartiality, Dr Muscat said.

Recommendations not binding

The Prime Minister, through the Attorney General’s office, told the court that the Commission’s recommendations were not binding, and the opinion did not mean Malta could not adopt different systems to safeguard the rule of law.

He said the recommendations had to be implemented by the government through a political process, whereas Repubblika’s request, if upheld, was asking the court to enforce the Commission’s recommendations, effectively turning it into a legislator.

A request for the case to go to the European Court of Justice that was currently examining interference by the Polish government in the country’s judiciary was also dismissed by the Prime Minister and Justice Minister Owen Bonnici in their reply to the request. 

In a statement on Thursday, Repubblika said the government had publicly acknowledged the findings of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, that the present method of appointing judges meant the judiciary was not independent.

The government had also publicly committed itself to change the method of appointing judges to guarantee judicial independence, Repubblika said.

The organisation said that despite its promises, the government was appointing six new people to the bench using a system it had already admitted amounted to undue interference of the government on the judicial system.

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