First EU rule of law report: Malta suffering from ‘deep corruption patterns’

Track record of securing convictions in high-level corruption cases is lacking, says EU report on rule of law

December 2019: A protestor out on the street in Valletta after the arrest of Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech
December 2019: A protestor out on the street in Valletta after the arrest of Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech

The European Commission today published the first EU-wide report on the rule of law, covering every member state’s challenges to the rule of law.

The Commission has invited national parliaments and national authorities to discuss this report, including its country chapters.

The report noted that a number of significant reforms of the Maltese justice system had been unanimously adopted to strengthen judicial independence and the system of separation powers, respond to the Venice Commission and European Semester recommendations.

But the report found “deep corruption patterns have been unveiled” and had raised a strong public demand for a significantly strengthened capacity to tackle corruption and wider rule of law reforms.

“A track record of securing convictions in high-level corruption cases is lacking. A broad reform project has been launched to address gaps and strengthen the institutional anti-corruption framework, including law enforcement and prosecution.

“The reform includes new rules on the appointment of the Police Commissioner, the transfer of prosecution responsibilities – including for corruption-related cases – from the police to the Attorney General, a reform of the Permanent Commission Against Corruption, and new provisions to allow appeals against non-prosecution by the Attorney General. The effective implementation of these reforms will show the extent to which the recommendations from the Venice Commission and GRECO, in addition to those from the European Commission, have been addressed.”

The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017 triggered concerns about media freedom and the safety of journalists in Malta. Other areas of concern include the effective independence of the media regulator, as well as legal and online threats to investigative journalists. The report also pointed out the ownership by the two main political parties of multiple media outlets and broadcasters.

As regards checks and balances, a number of reforms were recently adopted by Parliament. In particular, new rules on the election and removal of the President of the Republic have been adopted, as well as reforms reinforcing the role of the Ombudsman. Other draft legislation has been tabled on limiting the role of the Prime Minister in the appointment of a number of independent commissions.

“These reforms aim at strengthening the overall system of checks and balances, and at responding to some of the recommendations made by the Venice Commission, which is also preparing an additional opinion on the legislative texts of these reforms. The need for other possible constitutional reforms is being considered, including on the functioning of Parliament. Civil society organisations are playing an increasing role in the public debate.”

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola (EPP) said the report’s message, while highlighting some progress after the resignation of Joseph Muscat in December 2019, was clear. “If this government continues to do everything it can to protect the crooks, the whole country will remain under scrutiny. The criminals must answer for their crimes.”

Reaction by Justice Minister

Justice Minister Zammit-Lewis celebrated the Commission’s acknowledgement of Malta’s efforts in responding to rule of law concerns, referring to “historic” reforms recently undertaken to toughen up rule of law practice in Malta.

“We are committed to go on with more reforms to further reinforce our democratic and institutional framework,” tweeted Zammit-Lewis.

Read also: [WATCH] Justice Minister reacts to concerns highlighted in EU rule of law report, Daphne inquiry

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