Minister’s daughter’s judicial appointment ‘assault on democracy’ NGOs tell PM

NGOs tell Prime Minister appointment of minister’s newly-warranted daughter as Commissioner for Justice obscures lines separating the legislative, executive and judicial branches

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Matthew Agius
25 August 2017, 5:28pm
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici handing Martina Herrera her warrant last February. Her father, Environment Minister Josè Herrera stands at right. Photo: Facebook
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici handing Martina Herrera her warrant last February. Her father, Environment Minister Josè Herrera stands at right. Photo: Facebook
Three NGOs have written to the Prime Minister today to express serious concern at the recent appointment of Environment Minister Jose Herrera’s 25 year-old daughter as Commissioner for Justice, describing it as “an assault on democracy”.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and copied to the media, Aditus Foundation, Integra Foundation and the Critical Institute “All the elements surrounding this appointment, taken cumulatively, clearly support our understanding that it is borne of preferential treatment afforded to Dr. Herrera in view of her father’s position within Government.”

Despite only having received her warrant to practise law in February, lawyer Martina Herrera was appointed Commissioner for Justice this month. Commissioners for Justice play a minor judicial role and normally preside over local tribunals and decide traffic and other minor offences.

Martina Herrera’s judicial appointment drew immediate criticism and controversy, being denounced by Opposition leader Simon Busuttil as “brazen nepotism.” But this was rebuffed by the Office of the Prime Minister, which said that she satisfied the eligibility and qualification criteria for the post and that her appointment “followed normal procedures.”

Although there is no statutory experience requirement for the role, this newspaper is told that generally, only lawyers with over 10 years of experience are considered for such appointments.

The NGOs denounced her appointment as “an assault on our democracy, and stands in stark contrast to the meritocracy promised by this Government throughout the previous two electoral campaigns. This unashamed disrespect for Malta’s justice system, including for all the persons who interact with it in their personal or professional capacities, is unacceptable.”

The organisations warned that political nepotism was symptomatic of a much deeper problem, as “such decisions obscure the lines separating the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. We are saddened by the insistence of successive Governments on transforming into political party clubs or recruitment agencies those entities entrusted to secure justice, fairness, efficiency and democracy.”

The letter, signed by Dr. Neil Falzon Dr. Maria Pisani and Dr. Shaun Grech urged the Prime Minister to “step up Government’s efforts at strengthening Malta’s struggling justice system...In particular, we urge Government to refrain from making appointments that tarnish the reputation and effectiveness of Malta’s justice system. We also believe implementation process of the Justice Reform Commission proposals needs urgent attention.”

The organisations invited the young appointee to step down from her role as Commissioner for Justice, “out of respect for Malta’s legal system, for her colleagues and for the intrinsic value of justice.”

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Court reporter Matthew Agius is a Legal Procurator and Commissioner for Oaths. Prior to re...