Delia will take Interpretation Act to Constitutional Court if Bill is passed

Adrian Delia will challenge constitutionality of Interpretation Act amendment saying fine-issuing regulators cannot be turned into criminal prosecutors

Nationalist MP Adrian Delia (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Nationalist MP Adrian Delia (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Nationalist MP and ex-Opposition leader Adrian Delia has warned government that he will challenge an amendment to the Interpretation Act in the Constitutional Court if it is passed in parliament.  

Delia charged that a government bid to change the Interpretation Act, an act concerning the language in which laws in Malta are interpreted, serves as a loophole to change the Constitution, which would have otherwise needed a two-thirds majority before any changes can be made. 

The bill amending the Interpretation Act, currently in its second reading in parliament, will allow administrative fines issued by a regulatory entity to be interpreted as a criminal punishment. Government moved the Bill after failing to obtain a two-thirds approval for a direct amendment of the Constitution. 

“The same entity issuing the fine cannot also judge whether the crime was committed,” Delia argued in the House. “Out of loyalty to the Constitution, I will be the first to go and see that the Court rules the Act to be unconstitutional.” 

The amendment will apply to fines issued by the Malta Gaming Authority, Planning Authority, or the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, among others. “These entities will be able to treat you like criminals, even though no court ever ruled that you are one. It castigates every person who government thinks should pay for their behaviour,” Delia continued.  

Nationalist MP Joseph Ellis expressed similar concerns on the Bill, and said that with recent revelations of former MGA chief Heathcliff Farrugia colluding with Daphne murder suspect Yorgen Fenech to prevent money-laundering fines against Tuma Gaming, such reforms should be viewed suspiciously. “How can you have faith in the institutions when they work in this way, with no respect to the law?” he asked.  

Ellis said that allowing regulators, which already have the power to issue fines running in the millions, without any sort of criminal procedure beforehand, could make room for serious abuse. 

On the government side, Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield said that no MP should get to decide whether the law is unconstitutional or not. “We always respected the Constitution – these amendments are there to strengthen authorities in the fight against corruption and money-laundering. Do you want us to do nothing?” he told MPs. 

He questioned the Bill’s critics’ motives, arguing that institutions must have a right to impose administrative fines.