Government launches plan to reorganise Attorney General and State Advocate duties

Minister denies the suggestion that the re-organisation is simply "shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic."

The government has launched a five-year plan to reorganise the workings of the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the State Advocate.

Speaking at the launch, Justice Minister Jonathan Attard said the project is aimed at maximising the efficiency and effectiveness of the two crucial positions.

It also marks “an important step in an ongoing journey”, he said.

The project was a result of the separation of the roles of Chief Prosecutor and lawyer to government, which had previously both been performed by the Office of the Attorney General.

The Office of the State Advocate had been created in 2019 to take over the ‘government lawyer’ role from the AG, following recommendations made by the Venice Commission.

Attard expressed satisfaction at seeing the agencies developing, saying that he was confident that the plan will result in the desired outcomes.

Today, at the conclusion of the 18-month process, he said the two offices are “operating with integrity and at the best of their capabilities, with the tools and expertise available”.

The minister said that public awareness about the different roles of the two agencies, and the public’s trust in them, were both increasing.

A digital transformation of the justice system had been “substantially implemented,” Attard said, adding that the ministry was committed to the process of change and the continued support of the two offices.

A well-functioning justice system was important, not only as a value in and of itself, but also contributed to the economic stability of the country, the minister said.

Addressing the press conference after Attard, Parliamentary Secretary for EU funds, Chris Bonett said that the reality is that people can experience an “unequal process” in the justice system, and that this therefore spurred the work to create a system that was more just. “The scale of our endeavours reflects the government’s commitment to this.”

The €300,000 study government-commissioned study which had preceded the plan had been financed by the EU, Bonett said. He emphasised the need to further streamline the justice process, stating that the project would not stand on its own. “Digitalisation is key to stopping cases getting bogged down in outdated procedures.”

Bonett also announced, but did not go into detail about, the intention to create a separate prosecution service within the Office of the Attorney General, which would build on the 2019 separation of roles.

Declaring his commitment to the strengthening of the justice system, Bonett said it was “up to everyone to work towards a fair and just society.”

Also addressing the launch was Daniele Dotto from the European Commission, which he said was supporting professionals from the two offices in improving their skills and capabilities.

This was the third of the Commission’s justice-related projects in Malta, he said. The first two related to the efficiency of the justice system, while this one was aimed at strengthening the rule of law in Malta.

“We need more than ever to reiterate our commitment to common values, including the rule of law,” Dotto said, expressing his hope to remain on the ground in Malta and participate in future projects involving Malta.

Last to speak was Jesko Hentschel, the World Bank’s Country Director for the Maghreb and Malta, based in Rabat, who addressed the launch via video link from Morocco. He described the project as a “milestone for the World Bank,” expressing his gratitude to the Attorney General and the State Advocate for their insights and assistance in the project’s development.

The World Bank was interested in justice and the rule of law both because they were intrinsic objectives in themselves, but also because they are instruments for other development objectives in the economic and social sectors, Hentschel said.

Taking questions from journalists outside the event, the Justice Minister disagreed with the suggestion that the re-organisation he had just announced was a process more akin to the shuffling of deckchairs on the Titanic.

“I think it is further evidence of the government’s commitment to continue strengthening this sector. It is not an isolated action, but part of a series of interventions by this government, including a recent intervention that ensured the largest ever number of members of the judiciary.”

The recent appointment of four new magistrates meant that Malta now has its highest ever complement of judges and magistrates, he added.

Attard also pointed to financial investment in several areas related to the justice sector, including the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the State Advocate, and all the sectors which are to ensure effective justice in Malta.

The minister reiterated his confidence in all of the country’s institutions, “including the Office of the Attorney General and the Attorney General herself.”