David Casa, Nationalist Party MEP
It is quite debatable. My first reading of what has been proposed by Justice Minister Owen Bonnici does not offer much comfort. In my view it just adds another layer of bureaucracy in a feeble attempt to legitimise a process which really and truly still leaves the last word with the Prime Minister.
It could very well look like a positive change at first glance, but as always, once you scratch through the surface, it leaves so much to be desired – especially when the latest judicial appointments are taken as a benchmark.
Measures which are taken for granted to work well and fairly in a functioning democratic country cannot be assumed to do so in our country. Therefore, the change in the choice of candidates still suspiciously reeks of meddling when taken within the context of what has been happening in the past few years when it comes to appointments.
A truly independent public prosecutor should not be appointed by the Prime Minister – especially since, as claimed by the Venice Commission, the Prime Minister already has too much powers. Individuals for such important roles should be chosen by both the government and Opposition, through a two-thirds majority in Parliament.
This dual role does little in today’s political climate to dispel the perception of government interference in criminal investigations
What our country needs is not another gimmick, but a proper reform of our institutions in order to restore people’s trust in them.
The multiple roles and the concentration of power that exists in this office, coupled with the lack of checks and balances, makes the dual role of the AG very powerful.
The Venice Commission has clearly stated that the separation of roles exercised by the Attorney General is being proposed in order to avoid the appearance of a possible conflict between the two roles.
The aim is to create an independent office which is separate from the shackles of those exercising this dual role. This dual role does little in today’s political climate to dispel the perception of government interference in criminal investigations of alleged corruption and maladministration by members of the executive.
Therefore, unless the person appointed as the new public prosecutor carries the trust of both the Opposition as well as the government, the appointment will just be a cosmetic one.
It will just gloss over the existing problems without addressing the real issue, which in the current circumstances are that of independence and accountability.
Timothy Alden, Deputy Leader of the Democratic Party and Sliema local council independent candidate
One of the recommendations by the Venice Commission was to split the role of Attorney General, as currently he acts as both lawyer for the government and chief prosecutor. Having an Attorney General doing both roles amounts to having a weaker-than-average system of checks and balances.
The Attorney General is unlikely to contradict the government, as it is his job to defend it at the same time. It makes for a schizophrenic game of chess, where one has to play against oneself.
The government has announced plans for the creation of the Office of Chief Prosecutor, the individual being appointed by it. A chief prosecutor chosen by the government sidesteps the entire point made by the Venice Commission that the amount of power wielded by the Prime Minister needs to be reduced.
Whether the chief prosecutor is effective or not will depend on his ability to fool the government into thinking he is a yes man
One runs the risk of having a chief prosecutor who is just as loyal to government as the Attorney General, because both owe their jobs to political appointments.
Let us consider the resignations of three police commissioners in a short time span in recent years.
Were these resignations a result of principled men refusing to bow to a broken system? Did the Prime Minister cycle through police commissioners until he found one he could control? Their cases are potentially symptomatic of the entire problem of political appointments. Justice must always be seen to be done.
Whether the chief prosecutor is effective or not will depend on his ability to fool the government into thinking he is a yes man. Only after his appointment could he finally come down like a hammer on the government, finally having the authority he needs to do so. That would hardly be an ideal situation.
There are two strains of thinking on the matter.
According to the government, it is not right to have public officials who are not answerable to the electorate in some shape or form. Political appointments, even in justice, are acceptable because it is the voting public which is the ultimate check and balance on power. The opposite school of thought fosters a fully independent legal system, whose officials are appointed by technocratic and meritocratic standards and systems, beyond the reach of politicians.
Malta’s problem with sticking to the current system is that especially as a small country, we are particularly susceptible to clientalism and favouritism.
Therefore, the same arguments used to defend a system like ours do not apply here.
The effectiveness of a chief prosecutor appointed by the government depends on that individual’s hidden moral core. Past experience forces me to conclude that we should not trust the government to pick the people who are supposed to hold them accountable.
The Labour Party failed to send their contribution in time for publication.
If you would like to put any questions to the parties in Parliament send an e-mail marked clearly Question Time to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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