Venice Commission flags role of State Advocate

Venice Commission praises judicial reforms, but expresses reservations over state advocate’s role

State Advocate, Victoria Buttigieg
State Advocate, Victoria Buttigieg

The Venice Commission has taken issue with part of the Maltese government’s reforms on rule of law, in connection with the role of the State Advocate in the appointment of members of the judiciary.

MaltaToday is informed that the Commission has reacted to the proposals submitted by the Maltese government to it in May, on plans for institutional changes related to the rule of law.

In a report to Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, the Venice Commission praised several of the proposals, including those on reforms in the appointment of the police chief.

It however said that it had reservations on the position of the State Advocate in the Judicial Appointments Committee and the Commission for the Administration of Justice.

According to the proposals sent to the Commission, the State Advocate will replace the public prosecutor as a member on the Judicial Appointments Committee (JAC).

The JAC vets and selects candidates for the bench who apply under a rolling public call, from inside and outside the judiciary. The Committee will also include two additional judges and a magistrate chosen by their peers. The Chief Justice will continue to preside over JAC but will also be given a casting vote in addition to his original vote.

The JAC will propose the three most suitable candidates for appointment directly to the President, accompanied by detailed reports. The final choice of the judiciary will rest with the President.

But the Venice Commission has disagreed with the position the State Advocate, as the former Attorney General is now known, would have within the JAC.

When it comes to the removal of judges or magistrates, it has also taken issue with the role the State Advocate would play in the Commission for the Administration of Justice.

Under the government’s proposals, the State Advocate will replace the Attorney General on the Commission for the Administration of Justice, which has the prerogative for judicial discipline, short of the removal of a member of the judiciary.

Another issue the Venice Commission found was related to the role Parliament has in the removal of judges and magistrates.

The proposals set out that the Commission for the Administration of Justice would recommend that a member of the judiciary be removed by Parliament, with that said member having the right to an appeal in the Constitutional Court from such a recommendation.

The Venice Commission said that it did not agree that Parliament be involved in this process. The Commission, however, otherwise praised the proposals for the method of appointment and discipline of members of the judiciary.

The Venice Commission also confirmed the government’s legislative concepts behind the proposals related to the Permanent Commission Against Corruption reform, persons of trust, permanent secretaries and the appointment of the police commissioner. These, the Commission said, were steps in the right direction.