Updated | European court will hear case on Malta's judicial appointments

The European Court of Justice will now be tasked with addressing Malta's judicial appointments on behalf of Repubblika's request

Malta's judicial appointments will be referred to the European Court of Justice
Malta's judicial appointments will be referred to the European Court of Justice

Updated at 5:10pm Repubblika statement

The courts have upheld a request for a reference to the European Court of Justice by civil society activists Repubblika on the issue of the current system of judicial appointments.

In a note filed before Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti two weeks ago, Repubblika said it wanted the European Court to determine whether the current system of judicial appointments in terms of the Maltese Constitution was in breach of the European Treaty and/or Charter of Fundamental Rights.

It explained that the current system gave the Prime Minister “arbitrary discretion,” was not subject to “clear and objective rules or criteria” and was lacking any need for explanation or motivation nor subject to any judicial authority. 

The Prime Minister had opposed the request at the current stage of proceedings, arguing that first the court had to hear evidence to decide whether or not the reference was necessary.

The court, however noted that the question required the court to pronounce itself on delicate aspects of the case which had the possibility of legal implications, especially in view of the recent European Court decision against Poland. The judge also held that for the purposes of this reference, which is of a legalistic nature, no evidence needed to be heard.

Citing previous case law, Mr. Justice Mark Chetcuti observed that there were three instances where a national court is not bound to make the reference. These were when the question has already been answered by the ECJ, when the answer can easily be deduced from previous sentences and where the implementation of Community law was so obvious that it left no doubt as to the answer of the referred question.

The central question to this case had not been the same as others, notably the decision against Poland, which dealt with the validity of a law which was recently enacted, noted the court.

“In today’s case, particular articles of the highest law of the land, that is the Constitution, which have been in force since independence…are being attacked before the Maltese courts, and are now being besieged for reasons forming the merits of the action,” said the judge.

“At this stage this court does not see it as wise and just for the parties to comment upon them. This is being said because the answers and legal and juridical consequences which possible may emerge from an action of this nature do not appear to have been addressed by the jurisprudence of the European Court.” Neither could the question of the working of EU law invoked in the case be decided by a simple reading of the law, without the assistance of the European Court, said the judge.

“The subject matter is a delicate one, of national interest and with very serious repercussions, not only on the justice system, but for all of society which in some way or other touched or will touch the Maltese courts…”

In a separate decree also handed down today, the court also rejected lawyer Joe Brincat’s request to intervene in the case.

In a reaction on Facebook this morning lawyer Jason Azzopardi wrote: "Judicial history in the making. Thanks to Repubblika for its endurance, resilience and grit. Proud to be helping out with Simon Busuttil and Karol Aquilina. The road is long and uphill. But we will make it, whatever the pain and time."

In a statement released by the government following the court's decision, the government said that it would be formally asking for leave to appeal.

Repubblika claim win for Malta's judicial system

NGO Repubblika claimed that the court's decision on Monday was a win for juridical independence. "The reason for this case is none other than to ascertain that the judiciary doesn't lose its independence," it said in a statement.

"Repubblika reminds that last December the Venice Commission made it clear that the judicial independence is threatened by the Prime Minister's power who appoints whomever he wants... all this would have been avoided had the Prime Minister not abused his power and filled the judiciary with his people."

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