Justice Minister Owen Bonnici, whose proposal to promote Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera to judge was blocked, yesterday refused to say whether the government would persist with its plans to appoint her.
Asked for his position following negative advice from the Judiciary Appointments Committee to his referral, Dr Bonnici insisted the procedures of the committee were confidential and so he would not comment about them.
However, Dr Bonnici insisted that the magistrate was a very capable and respected member of the judiciary.
“I think the story in The Sunday Times of Malta had inaccuracies and that you are assuming that Magistrate Scerri Herrera was rejected,” Dr Bonnici said.
When pressed to state whether he was denying that his nomination was blocked by the commission, Dr Bonnici insisted the issue was confidential.
Asked to declare whether the government, as allowed by law, would still promote the magistrate, Dr Bonnici walked away.
The Sunday Times of Malta reported that, following a thorough examination of Dr Bonnici’s request for advice, including a face-to-face interview with Dr Scerri Herrera, the Judiciary Appointments Committee had decided to advise against her promotion to judge of the Superior Courts. One of the main reasons behind the decision was a recent rebuke by the judiciary’s watchdog which found she had breached the judiciary’s code of ethics, particularly through behaviour that compromised her integrity and personal dignity.
I would avoid embarrassing the government with a rejection- Dean, University Faculty of Laws
Senior lawyers, in addition to former judges, insisting on anonymity, expressed surprise that the Justice Minister had proposed that Dr Scerri Herrera become a judge despite being aware of the recent negative decision by the Commission for the Administration of Justice in her regard.
The Dean of the Faculty of Laws at the University of Malta, Kevin Aquilina, said he would have avoided such a situation.
“If I were the minister, I would not propose any sitting magistrate for a judicial appointment to avoid embarrassing the government by getting a rejection from the Judicial Appointments Committee and registering a clash between two organs of the government,” Dr Aquilina said.
“I would allow magistrates interested in becoming judges to apply themselves once the option exists,” he said.
A retired judge who did not wish to be identified said that this was “another error of judgement by Dr Bonnici”.
“Only last year, the same minister had to reverse his decision after nominating lawyer Ingrid Zammit Young to the judiciary when she was not eligible according to the Constitution. Even on that occasion, the minister received a negative reply,” he recalled.
Asked whether a nominee found to be unfit to serve as a judge could in the meantime still serve as a magistrate, Dr Aquilina said that there was no straightforward reply.
“One must really know the reasons which motivated the rejection for promotion,” he said.
“I think it all depends on the circumstances of the case and that no one-size-fits-all rule can be adopted,” Dr Aquilina insisted.
Just a few weeks before Dr Bonnici asked the Judicial Appointments Committee for advice on whether to promote Magistrate Scerri Herrera, who is Environment Minister José Herrera’s sister, she was censured by the judiciary’s watchdog for giving public interviews, seeking publicity and entertaining advances from a police inspector .
At the same time, the Commission found no proof that the magistrate had shown any professional favouritism by appointing architect Robert Musumeci as a court expert in a number of cases she was presiding over before the two became companions.
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