Bonnici: Opposition must stop using justice as political football

Justice minister not ruling out any further appointments to the judiciary pending reform in system of appointing magistrates and judges

Justice minister Owen Bonnici
Justice minister Owen Bonnici

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici has defended his recent appointments to the judiciary, saying he had “no doubt” in the competence of new magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo, the daughter of Speaker Anglu Farrugia.

Taking questions from the press after signing an agreement between the International Organisation for Migration and the Irish embassy to strengthen the fight against human trafficking, Bonnici dismissed suggestions that experience as court attorneys did not count as open court experience.

Farrugia Frendo has been a court attorney since October 2015 and only completes the minimum court practice requirement of seven years in March 2016.

Bonnici said the only limitation was on lawyers’ private practice, and that a pool of court attorneys had also been advocated in the Bonello report on judicial reform, where they were referred to as “jurists”.

“Training is one of the most important factors. We need to invest in order to equip the judiciary and justice providers. We cannot be passive spectators but active protagonists in the improvements. And the government has invested heavily to have a judiciary complement that reflects this,” Bonnici said.

“We already have two magistrates, one of whom is now a judge, who had been judicial assistants in the past. This precedent is comforting.”

Asked about the Commission for the Administration of Justice’s reported opposition to the appointments, the minister pointed out that the dissenting members had not come forward or been identified in the reports, adding that the leader of the Opposition was also a member of the Commission.

Farrugia Frendo, who works in family court, has asked to be allowed to finalise her work there before being sworn in, Bonnici said. He did not exclude making any further appointments before changing the system of appointing magistrates.

He highlighted a 10% increase of female members of the judiciary. More criminal cases were being dealt with by Magistrates’ Courts, due to the recent widening of the competence of that court, Bonnici said, “so I felt that we needed more magistrates. With the current personnel the backlog is not going to end.”

Bonnici, who yesterday asked the House Business Committee to improve the conditions of the judiciary, appealed to the Opposition to “stop using justice as a political football” asking them to be “sensitive to the reality of the courts.”