Owen Bonnici announces judicial appointments commission

Justice Minister announces plans to table Bill setting up judicial appointments commission, increase in judges' retirement age, and sub-committee within judiciary watchdog to deal with disciplinary issues. 

Justice minister Owen Bonnici
Justice minister Owen Bonnici

Justice minister Owen Bonnici has published a draft bill amending the Constitution which, if passed by Parliament, will bring much-needed reforms to the justice sector, including a reform of the way members of the judiciary are appointed.

The bill, set to be tabled in Parliament on 8 March, sets up a new commission for judicial appointments, made up of the Chief Justice, Attorney General and the President of the Chamber of Advocates, who will receive and evaluate expressions of interest in judicial posts. This Commission can also be asked to give its opinion on other judicial appointments, Bonnici said.

The minister explained that his immediate priority upon assuming office had been to reduce the delay in court cases being heard and decided, expressing his satisfaction with the great strides made in this area.

Other proposed measures include increased security of tenure by means of a two-thirds entrenchment for the Commission for the Administration of Justice, and the setting up of a separate sub-committee of the CAJ, dealing with disciplinary issues. The judiciary is to be judged by its own peers, said the minister, and there will be a right to appeal.

The anomaly in the removal of misbehaving members of the judiciary has also been addressed in the bill. Impeachment remains as a sanction, but other disciplinary proceedings have also been introduced, such as fines and suspension on half pay.

The retirement age of judges has been raised to 68 and a pension scheme for the judiciary and the Attorney General introduced. Retired judges and magistrates will be entitled to a pension after 15 years of service or a lesser sum pro-rata if they serve less.

Bonnici said that in March 2013 he had found an electorate and several EU institutions which had “given up on ever seeing improvement in the justice sector.”

In reaction, Bonnici had set up the Commission for Holisitic Justice Reform, which had carried out a consultation process and gathered suggestions from all involved - except from the Opposition which, he said, had chosen not to submit any proposals. Bonnici, however, thanked the Nationalist Party for what he called the “immensely positive discussions” that had contributed to the Bill.

The report emerging from the Bonello Commission had made 450 proposals for a wholesale reform of the justice sector which, Bonnici said, he had started rolling out immediately upon assuming office.

He highlighted the measures he had already introduced: reducing the powers of the Attorney General in drugs cases, the implementation of the right of disclosure of persons under arrest, the introduction of Court Attorneys, the new online tools made available to legal professionals and the tweaking of administrative procedures to increase efficiency.