The government consulted the Council of Europe’s rule of law experts about a proposed new system for appointing police commissioners, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said on Tuesday.  

"They recognised this as a positive reform," Dr Camilleri said. 

Speaking in Parliament during the second reading of proposed amendments to the Police Act, Dr Camilleri said he had held a video conference call with experts from the Venice Commission in recent weeks.  

The new mechanism to appoint the police commissioner after a public call appears to tally with the specific recommendations found in a report by constitutional experts on what is known as the Venice Commission.

It has however been criticised by legal scholars such as Kevin Aquilina and judge Giovanni Bonello.

Currently, it is the prime minister’s sole prerogative to appoint the person who leads the police force. 

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Under the proposed new process, applicants will be screened by a public sector body and people from outside the police force will be eligible for the top post. 

The Public Service Commission will select two candidates and the prime minister will then choose which one will face a grilling in Parliament. The House will then vote to approve or reject that candidate. 

The Opposition's proposal was for the police commissioner to be selected by a two-thirds parliamentary majority.  

Camilleri hails reforms

Speaking in the House, Dr Camilleri said the reform would be the base of many other reforms in the force and beyond. 

The government, he said, was conscious of past shortcomings and was ready to propose ways to improve things including forfeiting some of its own powers.  

Dr Camilleri said that when faced with the resignation of former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, he could have done what all his predecessors had done and appointed another commissioner.  

He said that the system the government was proposing was transparent and would avoid the possible deadlock that a two-thirds majority could create.  

Six commissioners in seven years

From the Opposition benches, Beppe Fenech Adami argued that the amendments were happening in a context. 

“In seven years of Labour government, we have had four home affairs ministers, and six police commissioners. This is the certificate of failure for this administration,” he said.   

Dr Fenech Adami said the government had intentionally allowed the police force to collapse.

The current system of appointments had worked for as long as governments appointed serious police commissioners and respected the basic principles of decency, he argued. 

“The first thing the Labour government did in 2013 was remove a police commissioner who had trust and appoint one after another after another,” he said.   

Dr Fenech Adami said this was why the Opposition was proposing that police commissioner should enjoy two -thirds parliamentary backing, to truly avoid a repeat of what had happened over the past few years. 

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