A court decision concerning contentious judicial appointments was on Wednesday depicted as a victory by both the government and a civil society group seeking to nullify the appointments.
In a ruling passed on Wednesday morning, a civil court found that Repubblika did not have a juridical interest in the issue under Maltese law but deferred a decision about whether the case should be referred to the European Court of Justice, reserving that decision to a later date.
Repubblika is seeking to nullify the appointment of six new members of the judiciary, saying no new members should have been added to the bench until a revised system of appointments was in place.
In a judgment handed out on Wednesday morning, Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti found that the group did not have interest under Maltese law. As a result, its request to block the introduction of the six new judicial members could not be acceded to.
The court however postponed a decision about whether to refer the group's complaint to the ECJ, saying it would rule on that matter at a later stage once it heard evidence.
It noted that the ECJ was hearing a case concerning similar matters against Poland. The outcome of that case would provide "redeeming guidance" for the court's decision, it said.
Repubblika can now choose to appeal the court’s decision that it has no juridical interest in the case under local law.
Each party will have its own interpretation... but that does not give the government the right to lie about facts. - Repubblika
The Attorney General, on the other hand, can choose to appeal the court's rejection of other pleas in the case.
The case will now proceed next week.
Both sides declare victory
Both sides of the case quickly pounced on the judgment and declared it a victory for their respective sides.
In a statement, the government said that the court had denied the group's application, signed by lawyers Simon Busuttil and Jason Azzopardi, to freeze judicial appointments.
"The same court did not accede to a request to refer the case to European courts," the statement added.
That claim was slammed as an outright "lie" by Repubblika.
"Each party will have its own interpretation of what the court has ruled," the group said. "But that does not give the government the right to lie about facts".
The government's head of communications, Kurt Farrugia, wrote on Twitter "reforms will continue. Political games should stay out of courts".
Once again the Courts throw out @SimonBusuttil and @AzzopardiJason’s application, this time to stop appointment of new judges and magistrates, appointed according to new improved more independent system. Reforms will continue. Political games should stay out of courts. #RuleofLaw— Kurt Farrugia (@KurtFarrugia) May 22, 2019
Lawyer and PN MP Simon Busuttil, on the other hand, said that the court had "just rejected the Attorney General’s request to throw out the case on the independence of the judiciary. The case will go on."
BREAKING. The Court has just rejected the Attorney General’s request to throw out the @repubblikaMT case on the independence of the judiciary. The case will go on.— Simon Busuttil (@SimonBusuttil) May 22, 2019
In a statement, Repubblika said that the court had "rejected the government’s claim that Repubblika has no legal standing" in its argument that judicial appointments should only happen once the current system was overhauled.
"The Court found that Repubblika was eligible to make this claim under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union that was one of three legal bases Repubblika cited to claim its right to make this complaint," it said.
Repubblika's court case is based on a Council of Europe assessment that Malta's current system of appointing judges and magistrates “falls short of ensuring judicial independence”.
The government had chosen to appoint six new members to the bench despite that critique.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had slammed Repubblika's attempts to block the process as “absurd” and argued that the Venice Commission’s recommendations were not binding.
The legal tussle had been described as one of Malta’s foremost legal scholars as “the worst constitutional mess” since independence.