Splitting the Attorney General's role

Government going it alone, as it is trying to do, is only complicting matters rather than resolving them

Attorney General Peter Grech
Attorney General Peter Grech

The criticism levelled by the Opposition regarding the Bill splitting the dual role of the Attorney General as public prosecutor and lawyer to the government is justified.

The Bill is intended to address criticism by the Venice Commission; but speaking in Parliament, Adrian Delia highlighted and quoted at length from a recent critical article penned by law professor Kevin Aquilina’s in which he wrote that the proposed law failed to live up to the commission’s recommendations.

Prof. Aquilina, former dean of the University of Malta faculty of laws, slammed the proposed law in an article as “half-baked and ill-conceived”, and that it “has been drafted hastily, shabbily, superficially, and without enough thought and research put into it”.

In his article, Prof. Aquilina had described the Bill as “a parody of the Venice Commission” recommendations and went as far as to argue that the government was “deliberately acting in bad faith”.

Another – anonymous – constitutional expert was quoted by The Times as explaining the proposed law in this way: “The government has once again failed the test as it will still be up to the Prime Minster to appoint both the Attorney General and the State Advocate.”

The Opposition has already said it will be voting against the Bill, primarily over its failure to adopt a proposal for the Attorney General to be appointed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament, instead of being appointed by the Prime Minister – as has been the case since Independence and before.

The Bill introduces a so-called Appointments Commission to act as a filter for those applying for the post. This Commission will present a report to the Prime Minister to help him make his choice. However, even the members of this Commission will be appointed by the Prime Minister. Curtailing the power of the Prime Minister does not seem to be on the agenda.

The wide – and conflicting – powers of Malta’s Attorney General were highlighted by the Venice Commission. With the changes being proposed by Government, the Attorney General would still continue to have different reponsibilities that create potential conflicts of interest.

As Delia noted in Parliament, decisions on undertaking criminal proceedings will still not be subject to judicial review, and the suggested merger of prosecuting police with the Attorney General’s prosecuting office had not been taken up.

In Delia’s words: “This law will strengthen the Prime Minister’s powers to pick his people and keep them in their posts, while ensuring that their decisions cannot be challenged.”

Among other things, the Attorney General will still retain the role of FIAU chairman – a post that has given rise to a potential conflict of interest.

I appreciate that this situation is not the result of the actions of the current government. It existed even before Joseph Muscat was born but that does not mean that we should not attempt to make an overhaul of the whole system. This includes amendments to our Constitution.

I have gone on record expressing my agreement that some Consitutional reforms could be urgent and that the reform in the role of the Attorney General is one of them. The proposed law as presented by Government does not tackle comprehensively the issue of his conflicting roles and of the extraordinary powers of the Prime Minister.

A genuine bipartisan effort to wipe out the past and start writing on a clean slate is now necessary and urgent.

Government going it alone, as it is trying to do, is only complicting matters rather than resolving them.

The Sliema story

In his interesting seminal work about his times and life, Herbert Ganado dedicates two chapters of Book Two of ‘Rajt Malta Tinbidel’ to the story of Sliema.

What we now know as Malta’s leading urban centre hardly existed at the turn of the twentieth century. Many parts of Sliema were, in fact, built in the fifties, although by then the urban character of Sliema was already established.

I remember my father building a block of flats in two small fields in Sliema almost seventy yeras ago. At the time people were building flats for the British military authorities who needed accommodation for servicemen and their families.

Interestingly enough, St Julian’s is older than Sliema and as Ganado points out, the main road that opened so many possibilities was not Tower Road – that was developed later – but Prince of Wales Road (now Triq Manwel Dimech) that connected the Sliema promenade on Marsamxett harbour up the hill and then down to Balluta Bay.

In fact, it was the Sliema-Marsamxett ferries that also pushed the development of Sliema as this made the transit from Valletta just a short boat ride away.

Ganado depicts the story of Sliema and St Julian’s as he saw it in the 1940s, speaking of Sliema as having been around for some seventy years. That makes Sliema today some 150 years old – a relatively young city compared with other urban areas in Malta and Gozo.

As is the case of most localities, Sliema had to pass through many phases, reflecting the social evolution of our country but it was the sort of urban sprawl that is now no longer possible in Malta. Except for British servicemen, the bulk of Maltese Sliema residents had clerical jobs – no nouveaux-riches flaunting their money.

Recent developments in Sliema have tended to overdo it. Building higher so that development of virgin land is avoided as much as possible has taken its toll of Sliema.

In the 1970s, most children of Sliema families moved to places like the new St Julian’s suburb of Swieqi, only for some to return in their old age.

The sort of tower being proposed on the old Union Club site would have been a weird, impossible dream only 50 years ago.

Except for some environmental NGOs, respecting Sliema’s ‘past’ is hardly on anyone’s books but its short life-span does not mean that there is – or was – nothing to preserve from the ‘original’ Sliema.

The Sliema of today and its inhabitants are complete strangers when compared to what there was even in the recent past.

But time knows no brakes... and nostalgia has no meaningful significance.

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