Updated | PN plans on presenting private member’s bill on judiciary appointments

Justice Minister soon to present draft bill to Cabinet • Opposition leader Simon Busuttil insists Caroline Farrugia Frendo should not be appointed magistrate • Farrugia Frendo's appointment will be carried out 'in full respect of the Constitution'

The Nationalist Party will be presenting a private member’s bill later on this week to regulate how appointments to the bench are made.

Delivering his comments following a ministerial statement delivered by justice minister Owen Bonnici, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said the opposition would take matter in its own hands and present a private member’s bill which would provide a more accountable manner in how judges and magistrates are appointed.

The PN’s motion would follow recommendations made by the Bonello Commission and the Chamber of Advocates.

“I hope that the minister supports our motion,” Busuttil said. Earlier, Bonnici reiterated that the reform in the appointment of the judiciary would take place before the end of the legislature.

Later in the debate, the justice minister would hit out at Busuttil, questioning why the PN’s electoral manifesto had never included the reform of the judiciary appointments.

The minister also said that he was working on a Bill to regulate appointments, which would soon be presented to the Cabinet. At the same time, he called for cautiousness against rushing with the drafting of the bill.

Busuttil reiterated that Bonnici should shoulder responsibility and resign over the nominations, and insisted that Caroline Farrugia Frendo should not be made magistrate.

“They were nominated not because they are women but because of who they are,” he said.

The PN leader said he had expected Bonnici “to admit to doing a mistake”.

“Yes, I expect him to should responsibility because he forms part of the government that thinks it is the best in Europe.”

During a heated intervention, PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami insisted that the nominations of Caroline Farrugia Frendo and Ingrid Zammit Young had been forced on to the minister because of who they are. At one point, he argued that, as a lawyer, he could “pay a high price” if the appointment of Farrugia Frendo takes place.

Referring to a report by MaltaToday on Sunday, Fenech Adami asked Bonnici to confirm or deny that the nomination of Farrugia Frendo was in reaction to comments by the Speaker that he had been interested in being nominated by the government to be a member of the European Court of Auditors. Fenech Adami said the report had not been denied.

Bonnici said he wasn’t in parliament to discuss media reports.

PN MP Jason Azzopardi pointed out that the Chamber of Advocates had, in three years, never been consulted on the appointment of members of the judiciary.

Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis insisted that, in the case of Farrugia Frendo, there had been no irregularities: “The government statement was about the nomination. It is the President that appoints magistrates and judges.”

The argument is that the oath will take place after the seven years as lawyer are up, in the coming weeks.

Winding down the debate, Bonnici reiterated that the Constitution had not been breached in the nomination of the two women. He said, that the justice watchdog’s advice was that there existed the “possibility” of an obstacle, “but never said that the Constitution had been breached”.

As laid down in the Constitution, members of the Employment Commission cannot take up public office before three years since leaving the commission are up.

“I must concede that Busuttil managed to turn the public opinion in favour of his claims, despite being wrong,” he added, referring to the nomination of the Speaker’s daughter.

Bonnici said the PN should stop “lying” because the government did not breach the Constitution: “What it should say is that [former PN MP] Peppinu Cassar was made magistrate after he failed to be elected to parliament.”

Former PN MP praises opposition

On Facebook in reaction to comments by Kurt Farrugia, head of government communications, Law Commissioner Franco Debono praised the opposition’s decision to present a private member’s motion.

“Well done to the Opposition for promoting a private members' motion about judicial appointments based on Bonello proposals and hence those I had made, after I had presented my private member’s motion as a Nationalist MP about the same subject in 2011, which proposals were subsequently taken on board by the Bonello Report in 2013,” Debono said.

“Well done to the Opposition. Well done to the Opposition also for voting in favour of the party financing legislation, which Bill I had also presented during the last legislature as a PN MP, and which was chosen by the current administration as a basis for the law.”

Farrugia however insisted that there was “no need” for any motion.

“Government is implementing the Bonello proposals in record time. Simon Busuttil had two manifestos and at least five years to implement [reform] despite an internal movement pushing in favour. Too late. We're implementing changes and Owen Bonnici is piloting reforms.”

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