Busuttil 'confident' of Repubblika victory in judicial appointments case

Former PN leader Simon Busuttil said that he was confident that he could win the case against the Prime Minister's judicial appointments at the European Court of Justice

Former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil
Former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil

Former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil has told a court of appeal that he was “confident” that Repubblika would ultimately win the case they filed, seeking to nullify judicial appointments until the recommendations by the Venice Commission on the rule of law are implemented.

“I’m confident I would win this case in Luxembourg,” said Dr Simon Busuttil, assisting Repubblika together with Dr Jason Azzopardi, in his final submissions in the case filed by Repubblika against the Prime Minister and the Justice Minister.

Busuttil referred to urgent legal action the group had filed in  April in a last-ditch attempt to stop the appointees’ swearing in. “We had filed an action before the latest appointments but the government, in defiance of all, went ahead with the swearing-in ceremony,” Busuttil said.

Four weeks later, Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti, presiding the First Hall, Civil Court, had declared that Repubblika did not have juridical interest in the issue under Maltese law, but postponed a decision about a reference to the European Court, saying he would tackle the issue at a later stage.

A week after that, that same Court had upheld both parties’ request to appeal, declaring that such a “sensitive” issue merited direction from the Constitutional Court, stressing that the appeal should be handled “with urgency.”

Busuttil drew parallels with a judgment from last June by the European Court of Justice in Commission vs Poland which had resulted in the removal of 27 judges, saying that although this dealt with the Polish president’s powers to extend a judge’s term of office, the Maltese Prime Minister had done more than that.

“One might argue: but this was Poland not Repubblika. But the subject matter is the same. We cannot ignore EU laws,” said the former PN leader.

Busuttil argued that the Constitutional Court itself had provided proof of the validity of Repubblika’s claims in its decision to turn down a challenge calling on Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi to abstain from presiding over the case.

The court declared that the Chief Justice, as President of the Judicial Appointments Committee, made recommendations to the Prime Minister who held “final discretion” on the selection. The Prime Minister had the power to overrule the recommendations by the Committee and appoint persons who had not been approved by the Committee, as long as he gave reasons for this, the court had said.

“That is precisely what we are saying. The PM has a terrifying discretion,” Busuttil said. He claimed that the current system of appointments was causing “serious and irreparable harm” to the EU legal order and was not just limited to Malta.

For his part, Attorney General Peter Grech argued that it was premature for the case to go before the European courts as it had not yet been decided at the national level.

The judicial appointments system has been in place since Malta gained Independence from Britain in the 1960s, Grech said, asking why we should challenge it now.

Describing the case as having “judicial and political overtones,” he added that a person who did not have “victim status” had no right to institute it.

The court will deliver its final judgment in September. Chief Justice Azzopardi, Mr Justices Giannino Caruana Demajo and Noel Cuschieri are presiding.