Parliament would start to debate the divorce Bill but it would only be put to the vote after the people have had their say in a referendum, Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando envisaged yesterday.
The Nationalist backbencher spelled out the mechanics of how his divorce Bill might become law in the first public activity of Iva, the newly formed cross-party pro-divorce lobby group. The event was held in Parliament’s library at the Palace.
The scenario is based on legal advice given by veteran constitutional lawyer Prof. Ian Refalo, in which the Bill would pass through the first reading and then proceed to the second reading, where debate will ensue. Then, at committee stage, a clause could be inserted seeking popular approval by a referendum on the specific Bill.
“The second reading could close but MPs would get to vote on the Bill in the third and final reading only after the referendum,” Dr Pullicino Orlando said, adding he would expect all MPs to take note of the referendum result.
“It is unlikely MPs would ignore the referendum result but those who have a different position to the outcome would probably abstain when the Bill comes to the vote in Parliament,” he said when asked about the possibility of having a yes vote in the referendum but having a majority of MPs who were against.
Replying to questions, Dr Pullicino Orlando said he did not know when his Bill would be debated in Parliament but reiterated that the Prime Minister had given his commitment the debate would be held next year.
Labour MP Evarist Bartolo, who also forms part of Iva, said his participation in the committee had the backing of party leader Joseph Muscat.
The two MPs sat together with Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Michael Briguglio, former Nationalist minister Michael Falzon, Iva committee chairman Deborah Schembri and members David Micallef St John and Roderick Bartolo.
“Families break down before they seek divorce,” Dr Schembri said, adding that a divorce law would give the parties an opportunity to start afresh.
She insisted that the new law would not affect those who were happily married and it contained a number of safeguards to ensure children were protected throughout the proceedings.
The proposed law also takes into consideration the efforts made by spouses to reconcile. Divorce will be available for couples who are separated for four years out of the last five.
Dr Schembri stressed that the movement was not objecting to the Church making its views heard and urged that no one be denied the right to bring forward arguments in favour or against divorce.
Divorce, she said, already existed for Maltese who obtained it from a foreign court with the domestic courts having to recognise such a decree.
Addressing the press conference Mr Bartolo said he hoped the majority would back divorce so that the needs and rights of the minority would not suffer.
“I am happily married and intend to stay this way till I die but I cannot turn my back on those whose marriage has failed,” Mr Bartolo said.
Mr Briguglio said divorce legislation would regulate the life of people whose marriage had irretrievably collapsed, insisting it was a law in favour of the family since people who separated would be able to regularise their new relationship.
This state of affairs for some “family units” was described by Mr Falzon as “a legal limbo”.
“A wrong assessment once should not prejudice anybody’s right to happiness for the rest of their life,” he said, adding the state had a duty to recognise couples that formed new families.
Members of the committee said they would be using all forms of media, notably the internet, to push forward their campaign.
The lobby group’s website is www.iva.com.mt.
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