Chief Justice will not abstain from judicial appointments case

Chief Justice Joseph Azopardi said there was 'no objective basis' for his recusal in a case filed by the NGO Repubblika

The Court of Appeal said on Monday that Repubblika's request was unfounded
The Court of Appeal said on Monday that Repubblika's request was unfounded

Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi has denied a request for him to abstain from hearing a case filed by NGO Repubblika contesting the appointment of new members of the judiciary, citing “no objective basis” for his recusal.

Ruling on Monday morning, the Court of Appeal, presided over by Chief Justice Azzopardi and Judges Giannino Caruana Demajo and Noel Cuschieri, said that Repubblika’s request was unfounded.

The NGO had argued that it would be "judicial schizophrenia" for the Chief Justice to preside over the appeal, in view of the fact that he is also responsible for making recommendations about judicial appointments to the Prime Minister.

Repubblika wants the court to declare the appointments null, until the government implements the recommendations made by the Venice Commission on the rule of law. It argues that no new members should have been added to the bench until a new system of appointments is in place.

In its ruling, delivered earlier today, the court said that the fact that Chief Justice Azzopardi presides over the committee which makes the recommendations to the Prime Minister did not mean that he had expressed himself or ruled on the merits of the case in question.

The court pointed out that the final word on judicial appointments was the Prime Minister’s.

It said that the case before it was about the present system for the appointment of the judiciary, and what the NGO describes as the “Prime Minister’s absolute discretion on the appointment of members of the judiciary”.

Chief Justice Azzopardi had never ruled about the system per se but presided over a committee which looked into eligibility and merit for candidates to occupy a role, and so he does not influence the merits of the case over which he was being asked to abstain in any way.

With regard to assigning duties to newly appointed Magistrates and Judges, the Chief Justice said this fell within his remit.

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