Updated | Government, Opposition table separate bills on judicial appointments

Private member’s bill proposed by opposition presented for first reading • Government tables separate bill which includes a reform of the Commission of the Administration of Justice and judiciary’s working conditions

The House Business Committee
The House Business Committee

The government and Opposition tabled two separate bills in the House of Representatives this evening for their first reading in what will pave the way for a reform in the appointment of members of the judiciary.

During a meeting of the House Business Committee an hour before the plenary, the two sides of the House agreed that the private member’s bill presented by the opposition is tabled for its first reading.

The opposition’s private members’ bill is proposing the setting up of an authority responsible for the selection of judges and magistrates.

The government’s draft law proposes a reform of the Commission for the Administration of Justice and the working conditions of the judiciary.

The next step would be deciding a date for the second reading, after Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said the he would privately meet with shadow justice minister Jason Azzopardi to discuss the government’s proposals.

The first reading is the process by which a bill is introduced to parliament. The second reading is the process which sees MPs discussing the draft. A vote is then taken on the general outlines of the bill before being sent to the committee where each clause is scrutinised.

The disagreement was on the date for the second reading: each side wants its own draft bill to have the 'first' second reading - passing the bill presented by the government would render the opposition's obsolete.

The opposition is reluctant of letting go of its own private member’s bill, arguing that a reform in how the judiciary is appointed was not bound by reforms in the working conditions and the Commission for the Administration of Justice.

Bonnici however cautioned that the PN’s proposal already touched upon certain conditions, having proposed increasing retirement age to 68.

“The government has an obligation to implement its electoral manifesto and this included a holistic reform in the appointments. The opposition’s bill touches upon one point, which in reality puts aside the proposals of the Bonello Commission,” Bonnici said.

He explained, that the Commission’s report was clear in that such institutional changes must occur together.

The PN's bill proposes that the authority would be composed of the Chief Justice as its president, the president of the Chamber of Advocates, the Attorney General, and two lawyers each nominated by the Prime Minister and the Opposition. The Justice Minister said the government had its reserves on the latter proposal, “as this would effectively mean a representation of the two political parties”.

The Bonello Commission instead proposed a representative of civil society.

In a reaction, the Nationalist Party said the debate should take place immediately.

“If the government keeps on refusing an immediate discussion, the opposition will use its own time in parliament to force the debate,” the PN said.

It reiterated that no appointments should take place until the reform is implemented and once again called on the President – as chairperson of the justice watchdog – to discuss the constitutionality of lawyer Caroline Farrugia Frendo’s nomination.