Update 3 | Farrugia Frendo to be appointed magistrate, Zammit Young’s nomination referred to judiciary watchdog

President of the Republic confirms that only one nomination has been put on hold • OPM publishes Prime Minister's letter to the judiciary watchdog • Opposition leader seeks constitutionality of the two nominations

New magistrates Ingrid Zammit Young, and Caroline Farrugia Frendo
New magistrates Ingrid Zammit Young, and Caroline Farrugia Frendo

The Office of the President has confirmed that it will proceed with the oath of office of Caroline Farrugia Frendo in line with the Constitution while the nomination of Ingrid Zammit Young has been referred to the Commission for the Administration of Justice.

In an official statement, the Office of the president said that it had received several requests by the media on the matter and it wanted to clear the air. The questions arose following contradictory statements issued by the government and the opposition.

“The President has been informed that one nomination will be referred to the Commission for the Administration of Justice while the other appointment will be made in line with the Constitution,” the Office of the President said.

Earlier today, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil met the President of Malta over the two new appointments to the bench endorsed by the Cabinet, to convey his serious concern on the grounds that the appointments are in breach of the Constitution.

“I have been reassured by the President that she will not proceed with the oath of office of the two appointees,” Busuttil said after requesting Marie Louise Coleiro Preca to verify the constitutionality of the appointments. But in a statement issued later, government said that only one appointment, that of Ingrid Zammit Young, has been put on hold. 

Moreover, in a letter sent to the President, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that although the Constitution states that members of the Employment Commission are not eligible for appointment to or to act in any public office, the definition of public office does not necessarily include judicial appointments.

Busuttil requested that the President verifies the constitutionality of the two appointments to the bench, which on Wednesday saw a GO plc lawyer and the daughter of the Speaker of the House tagged for appointment to the Magistrates' Court.

Magistrates can only be appointed after having served in a court of law for seven years, which would mean Caroline Farrugia Frendo, 33, daughter of Speaker Anglu Farrugia, narrowly makes the cut, having obtained her warrant on 31 January, 2009 but taken her oath in March 2009. Since October 2015 she has been working as a court attorney under Judge Abigail Lofaro at the family court.

GO plc lawyer Ingrid Zammit Young, 43, was until recently chairperson of the Employment Commission, leading the Opposition to question whether she was even eligible for magistrate. “The Constitution states that people aren’t eligible to be appointed as magistrates until three years after the culmination of public office,” shadow home affairs minister Jason Azzopardi said in the House on Wednesday.

Busuttil told Marie Louise Coleiro Preca in his letter that she should seek comfort that the nomination of Farrugia Frendo, who only last week completed seven years in a court of law, was constitutional; and that Zammit Young had only been made chairperson of the Employment Commission, which according to Article 120 (4) of the Constitution was not eligible for appointment to any public office within a period of three years from the day she last held office.

"I seek an urgent meeting with you in view of this exceptional and unprecedented development in the history of our judiciary," Busuttil told the President, who is also chair of the Commission for the Administration of Justice.

In an official statement, the justice minister later stated that the Constitution had no general prohibition on publicly appointed officials from being appointed to magistrates, but qualified the prohibition. Bonnici said the appointment of the magistrates will be referred to the Commission for the Administration of Justice for its legal advice on the eligibility of Zammit Young. Bonnici said Farrugia Frendo's appointment was constitutionally sound.

Prime Minister demands 'swift' decision

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat sent a letter to the President of the Republic, who presides over the Commission of the Administration of Justice, asking for “swift” guidance over the eligibility of Zammit Young.

In his letter, Muscat says that although the Constitution states that members of the Employment Commission are not eligible for appointment to or to act in any public office, the definition of public office does not necessarily include judicial appointments.

He added that previous and analogous cases could shed more light on the interpretation of the law.

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