It is becoming increasingly clearer that Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg is not fit for purpose.
Together with the police and the courts, the attorney general is vested with the power to enforce the law. As former chief justice Silvio Camilleri had warned in his last official address prior to his retirement five years ago, if the three institutions fail to do their duty, the rule of law collapses and the rule of the delinquents prevails.
Buttigieg has just been given a public dressing-down by a superior court judge. Irked by her refusal to produce certain documentation in a breach of rights claim, the judge expressed “consternation” and “grave concern” about her “intransigence” and “glaring failing”.
The attorney general seems to have based her decision not to produce the “important” documents on legal provisions the same judge deemed “anachronistic”.
Very harsh words for the holder of a public office that has the constitutional power and duty to institute, undertake and discontinue criminal proceedings.
This has not been a mere one-off severe reprimand in her regard.
Buttigieg, Malta’s first state advocate, was appointed attorney general in September 2020 after her controversial former boss, Peter Grech, decided to retire.
The following summer, the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder public inquiry clearly implied that, in the scandalous Electrogas deal, she had put the interests of the government of the day before those of the state. At the time, she was deputy attorney general.
E-mails found in a cache of leaked Electrogas data indicated she accepted a proposal by the consortium’s legal team confirming that a minister could sign the agreement without the need for any further approval by either the cabinet or parliament.
The Chamber of Advocates was “perplexed” by her appointment because of her lack of experience in criminal law.
Buttigieg, who has been a lawyer for over two decades, has a master’s in financial services and specialises in civil, administrative and constitutional law.
Decisions she has been making since her appointment seem to prove the chamber right.
Over the past months, there has been a string of instances when the drawing up of charge sheets and certain demands in court, such as the freezing of assets of an accused person, have come under fire even by members of the judiciary.
Buttigieg still has to explain what led her office to subscribe to a plea bargain deal that saw the very grave charge of trying to kill police officers being dropped against one of the two men accused in connection with the June 2010 unsuccessful armed raid on HSBC Bank Malta’s cash depot in Qormi.
The man, however, failed to honour his part of the deal, refusing to tell the whole truth on the botched heist, insisting he would only speak about his co-accused. So, the criminal benefitted from the deal, cheating society in the process.
That is all thanks to decisions Buttigieg made in her official capacity as attorney general.
Her latest, this time involving omission, is not to have provided the police with authorisation to arrest notorious gaming consultant Iosif Galea, against whom a German arrest warrant was issued nearly a year ago over tax evasion.
The attorney general cannot be removed from office except by the president after parliament votes, by not less than a two-thirds majority, to request such removal on grounds “of proved inability” to perform the functions of office”.
At this stage it is looking as though Buttigieg ought to take a more noble way out and step down. The AG’s office is way too important.
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