Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis on Monday defended the proposed changes to the Interpretation Act, saying the proposals allowed the institutions to work.

He was addressing Parliament in the evening, as it debated changes to the act that seek to allow any public officer or authority to impose administrative penalties. 

The controversial act has earned rebuke from the Chamber of Advocates as well as the Opposition for being “undemocratic” and for allowing administrative fines that could run up into the hundreds of thousands of euro to be decided “without due process”. 

Zammit Lewis defended the bill, saying that it outlined a clear cut way to “allow institutions to work” as fine-imposing regulatory bodies that are effective and dissuasive in the fight against money-laundering and organised crime, without having to recur to the courts on every instance. 

Contrary to the belief of its critics, the bill sought to clarify the definition of a criminal charge and administrative fee and address a lacuna in the functions of the authority as well as an attempt to avoid jamming up the courts, Zammit Lewis said. 

He added that the bill as proposed did not go against the spirit of sentences meted out by the constitutional court, and that the aggrieved party has a right to legal recourse through judicial review and through the appeals court from “the very start of the administrative penalty process”.

In his rebuttal, PN MP Karol Aquilina said that decisions by the constitutional court made it very clear that where an administrative fine is substantial, this should be considered as a criminal sanction, and as such must be tried appropriately in court by a judge or magistrate. 

“In having the right to a fair hearing, you also have the right not to be adjudicated by the same person who has investigated you, it has to be an impartial arbiter,” Aquilina said.

“The police commissioner cannot just slap a massive fine on you and decided that you’re guilty, much in the same way, the body that is amassing evidence against you cannot decide on your guilt, it isn’t rocket science.”

 

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