MP says judges should declare assets, have due dilegence carried out

Shadow Justice minister Jason Azzopardi encourages the government to remove criminal libel laws

Shadow minister for justice Jason Azzopardi has recommended that members of the judiciary start declaring their assets, in the same way that happens in the United States’ Supreme Court. "Such a declaration would ultimately mean more transparency and encourage more trust in the judiciary system,” Azzopardi said.

The suggestion was made in the closing of his Budget speech on the justice ministry’s vote.

“As an MP, the betterment of the adminstration of justice is our aim because a society where justice is not carried out properly, is not a just society,” Azzopardi said in his general call for a hastening of judicial reform outlined under the Bonello Commission.

Azzopardi also called for a 2012 agreement with members of judiciary to be executed, so that their pensionable age is increased because judges were currently retiring on a €900 monthly pension.

Azzopardi also called for a process of due dilegence to be carried out members of the judiciary to be appointed by the government. “You may have a person who has the legal requisites to be a judge but we might not know if he has pending taxes of €400,000 owing to the Commissioner for Inland Revenue,” the MP said.

He said judges should also submit an annual declaration of assets. “You could have judges who are gifted a law book that could cost as much as €300, or an iPad,” he said.

He also said that Justice Minister Owen Bonnici had dragged his feet on the abolition of criminal libel.

In his intervention, Azzopardi also spoke about the issue of pending cases and delayed case resolutions, which he claimed the government was encouraging by not paying professionals for their work in June, July and August.

“One professional is due over €26,000 in pending payments,” he said, explaining that cases like these were leading to magistrates not filing further reports.

He further noted that three judges in the Small Claims’ tribunal had completed their five-year term, with only one person appointed to replace them so far.

“Furthermore, we are still waiting for the appointment of a new magistrate to replace Carol Peralta, who had 272 pending compilations and 28 pending inquires,” Azzopardi said.

Azzopardi further explained that the government had not kept many of its promises in the sector and it had the wrong priorities..

 “The budget allocated to personal emoluments (including salaries and pay rises among others) will rise by an impressive €800,000, whereas the budget for victims of crime amounts to a mere €1,000,” he said, stressing that this was contradictory to the government’s law on compensation for crime victims earlier this year.

Azzopardi further stressed that although the government had promised “extensive consultation” in its national justice reform document, the head of the drug squad and the opposition had not been consulted in any of these cases.

“You are not bound to implement what the Opposition recommends, but the system can only win if there is proper consultation,” he said.

Azzopardi further encouraged the government to implement an agreement signed between the former nationalist government and the judiciary in 2012, to increase the pension available to professionals in the judiciary.

“Such moves would ultimately make the work of the judiciary better and more efficient, and as a consequence it would encourage people to have faith in the system,” he added.

Earlier today, opposition MP David Agius spoke about the issue of local councils and insisted that the government no longer treated them as important.

“The whole budget document dedicated a mere 100 words to local councils,” he said, adding insufficient funds had been allocated to local governments, to allow them to improve their work. He questioned how the government was planning to redistribute funds given that the allocation hadn’t increased.

Agius stressed that the lack of funds had resulted in inadequate organisation of systems such as local wardens, as well as inadequate infrastructure and running of the individual councils.

Praising the government’s decision to rehouse the Valletta local council at the former Café Premier premises, Agius also encouraged the government to ensure the right amount of funding for the council, particularly in view of the city becoming the culture capital in 2018.

Opposition MP Joe Cassar made particular reference to Valletta 2018 and the budget allocations for the cultural sector. He questioned whether the government was determined to ensure the necessary development by the specified year, and encouraged the government to present road maps for the various projects that had been presented as central to Valletta 2018, including the MUŻA project, the new National Museum of Fine Arts at Auberge d’Italie, among others.

He further criticised the placement of the monument in honour of the Maltese republic at the St. Elmo ditch, calling it an “insult”, and further encouraged the government to ensure that the St. Elmo did not become a permanent construction site.

Oppsition MP Clyde Puli spoke of the crucial role of the public broadcasting service to present unbiased and clear information and stressed that the PBS had regrettably become “a weapon being wielded by the government.”

He added that it comes as “no great shock that the station is now at the brink of financial ruin,” and encouraged the government to publish the company’s financial accounts, to therefore understand how best to develop the company to restore it to its former glory.

Puli further added that the opposition had been subject to censorship under the public broadcaster, with the Opposition’s budget speech not even being reported live. Puli also discussed the language used by the broadcaster to ensure less authority to statements issued by the opposition.