Courts turns down Repubblika's request to halt judicial appointments but case will continue

A judge says that he will await the outcome of a case against Poland in the European Court of Justice before deciding whether to refer Repubblika's request to the EU court

Repubblika had asked the court to stop judicial appointments until the current system is changed in line with recommendations by the Venice Commission
Repubblika had asked the court to stop judicial appointments until the current system is changed in line with recommendations by the Venice Commission

The courts have turned down a request by the NGO Repubblika to block any further judicial appointments pending a decision in a constitutional case filed by the group.

Last month, Repubblika asked the courts to order the Prime Minister and Justice Minister to immediately stop any nominations to bench until the system of appointments is changed in line with recommendations made by the Venice Commission.

The courts were also asked to decide whether the Prime Minister’s discretion in appointing the judiciary breached the principle of independence; to declare appointments made under current system as null and void; and, finally, that future appointments be blocked until a final decision on the merits of this case was taken.

Specifically, Repubblika argued that the appointments breached EU treaties, the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the Maltese constitution.

In a preliminary judgment handed down today, the First Hall of the Civil Court presided by Judge Mark Chetcuti rejected the Attorney General's argument that Repubblika has no legal standing in the case. The court ruled that the NGO was eligible to make its claim under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

READ ALSO: Repubblika asks court to block judicial appointments

The court did reject the argument put forward by the NGO in which it claimed the judicial appointments were in breach of the Maltese Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The court ruled that the NGO could not in this case be considered a “victim”.

Regarding whether the case can be referred to the European Court of Justice, in a separate decree, the judge said he had taken note of proceedings by the European Commission against Poland, regarding its method of judicial appointments.

The judge observed that given the legal similarities between the cases, the decision in the Poland case would offer direction to the courts.

“At this stage the court considers that it can’t accept or reject the request but will wait and take a decision at a later stage on the merits of the case and once evidence has been heard,” Chetcuti said in his decree.  

Repubblika had filed the case last month in the wake of six appointments to the bench - three new magistrates and three judges.

In its decree the court noted that given that Repubblika had no right to bring forward the case on the basis that the appointments breached the constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights, it “can’t request any interim measures”.

“It is only other specific laws that give the court the right to impose such measures. The code of procedure does not allow for generic interim measures,” read the decree.

Government welcomes decision

In a statement, the government said the courts had denied former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil’s request for the court to block judicial appointments.

It also said that the the court had “not accepted the request by Dr Busuttil and Dr [Jason] Azzopardi for the case to be referred to the European Courts".

The government said it would continue working to strengthen the country’s judicial appointments system, noting that it had already started to reform the system.

“This reform could only happen through a constitutional change which required a two-thirds parliamentary majority to pass,” the government said, noting that both Busuttil and Azzopardi had voted in favour of the most recent changes to the method of appointment in 2016.

READ ALSO: Repubblika seeks ECJ opinion on new judicial appointments

Repubblika accuses government of lying

In an immediate rebuttal of the government statement, Repubblika said it was a lie to claim that the court had refused the group's request for a preliminary ruling from the ECJ.

"The court said it will not take a decision on the request for the time being and will wait to hear the testimony in the case... and will also take note of the outcome of a case against Poland that is pending before the ECJ," Repubblika said.

"There is no doubt that every side in a case will give its own interpretation of the court's ruling. But this does not give the government the right to lie on the facts," Repubblika said.



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