The shadow minister for Justice, Jason Azzopardi, said in parliament this evening that the opposition would not approve Constitutional changes on judicial appointments unless the government amended its Bill so that the final say on nominations would be that of the Commission on Judicial Appointments, not the prime minister's.

This, he told parliament, was a 'red line' for the Opposition.

The bill needs approval of at least two-thirds of the members of the House to become law. 

Dr Azzopardi said the opposition was prepared to budge over its original proposal for the commission to include representatives of the government and the opposition, saying that alternatively, the Ombudsman and the Auditor-General could sit on the commission since they enjoyed security of tenure. 

ELIGIBILITY FOR APPOINTMENT TO THE BENCH

Dr Azzopardi argued that the years of service of lawyers before they become eligible for appointment as magistrates or judges should be raised. The current threshold is seven years for magistrates and 12 years for judges.

The seven-year threshold was too low given the way how the responsibilities of magistrates had been increased, he said.

Lawyers should have at least 12 years experience in order to be nominated as magistrates, he said. What was holding the government from changing its position? Had it promised an appointment to somebody?

Dr Azzopardi said the provision of the Bill providing that judges may have 10% of their salary deducted by the Commission for the Administration of Justice for disciplinary reasons was unconstitutional as a judge's salary may not be reduced. 

Dr Azzopardi also called for the government to rectify a situation where, when somebody bribed a judge, he would be committing a crime, but the sentence which the bribed judge would have given would stay. This, he said, was inconceivable and people should not benefit from corruption. 

He said it was also hugely embarrassing that judges who retired then opted to continue serving as lawyers in court. This was not good for the judiciary and embarrassing to other lawyers. With the retirement age and pay of judges having been raised, this situation should not be allowed to continue.

Concluding, Dr Azzopardi augured that the two sides would reach consensus so that this Bill could be approved.  

FRANCO DEBONO THANKED

Dr Azzopardi thanked all involved in the debate on this bill including the Bench, the Chamber of Advocates , Judge Giovanni Bonello and also the Law Commissioner (Franco Debono).

Dr Azzopardi said he was thanking the Law Commissioner without in any way indicating agreement with his actions in the past, but because he had recently spoken reasonably and logically about this bill. 

FIXED TERM FOR CHIEF JUSTICE

Among other speakers, Parliamentary Secretary Jose' Herrera suggested that the Chief Justice should be appointed for a fixed term, after which he could continue to serve as a judge.

He also argued that the prohibition of judges from serving as head of state should be lifted. 

The House is adjourned to April 4.

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