Chief Justice threatens boycott over ‘demotion’ in State protocol

Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri irked at judiciary being dropped order of precedence below Speaker and Archbishop

Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri (Photo James Bianchi)
Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri (Photo James Bianchi)

A change to the Maltese state’s protocol for the hierarchy of officials and functionaries during official events, has irked the Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri after he was dropped two positions in the ‘top 5’ of the order of precedence.

The order of precedence was changed in October and while the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister held on to the top two positions – as heads of state and government respectively – the Chief Justice has been relegated below the Speaker of the House and the Archbishop.

In a statement issued yesterday during his New Year’s address to the President of the Republic, Camilleri said that this had “left a bitter taste in the Judiciary.”

He said the change in precedence “took place without the courtesy of the slightest advance notice and without any sort of consultation with the Judiciary, so much so that I first became aware of the change when I came to take my position in front of the War Monument on Remembrance Day. In my view this is not appropriate, even if courtesy and correctness in the ways things are done might no longer be fashionable in modern times.”

Camilleri added that after a cordial meeting with the Principal Permanent Secretary over the “ill-advised” changes, he is still awaiting a reply.

“I am not sure whether I can hope that perhaps courtesy will prevail for the start of the New Year,” he added.

MaltaToday is informed that upon learning of the changes, an irked Camilleri sent a letter addressed to justice minister Owen Bonnici and the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in which he protested at being relegated in the order of precedence.

The strongly worded letter was sent before the crucial Constitutional case in November in which the court presided by Camilleri, decided to award the Opposition two additional parliamentary seats following errors in the vote counting process in 2013.


No agreement on boycott proposal

Despite Camilleri’s protestations to the PM, the changes were not retracted and this led to the Chief Justice convening all members of the judiciary.

MaltaToday is informed that during the meeting Camilleri proposed a boycott of all official events unless changes to the order of precedence are retracted.

However, no consensus was reached within the members of the judiciary, whose composition is now more politically balanced following the nominations made by the current administration – many new appointments include former active members of the Labour Party executive or candidates.

In a last ditch attempt, Camilleri sent a letter to President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca in which he asked for a separate appointment for the customary New Year’s greetings which were this year held yesterday.

Yet it seems that this demand was rebutted as Camilleri and other members of the judiciary exchanged greetings with the President yesterday afternoon together with other dignitaries.

The changes were announced in November after the Prime Minister tabled the document with the changed order of precedence following a Parliamentary Question by Labour MP Etienne Grech.

The Chief Justice who previously came above the Speaker is now in fifth place.

In the list which is often used as a guide during very formal and state occasions, the head of the judiciary is followed by ministers, junior ministers, the leader of the opposition, former presidents and prime ministers, foreign ambassadors and the Gozo bishop.

Historically, the order of precedence had a more widespread use, especially in court and aristocratic life. Nowadays, the position in the order of precedence is not reflective of the Constitutional powers bestowed to the position but rather an indication of ceremonial or historical relevance; for instance, it may dictate where dignitaries are seated at formal dinners.

For example, in Italy the Prime Minister is below the Speakers of the Senate and the lower house, while in Germany the Chancellor comes one place behind the Speaker of the Bundestag.


Former Attorney General

In March, Camilleri failed an oral examination for his bid to become Malta’s second judge in the General Court of the European Court of Justice, in Luxembourg.

Camilleri was nominated to serve as Malta’s second judge to the EU General Court, after being selected by an evaluation board but after filing the screening process to sit on the General Court, which used to be known as the Court of First Instance in the European Court of Justice, he returned to serve as Chief Justice.

Camilleri was selected after having applied for the post of to the General Court, His departure would have opened up a crucial vacancy for Malta’s judiciary – a sensitive post for any government.

Camilleri, a former attorney general, was appointed chief justice in 2010 after Vincent de Gaetano was nominated to the European Court of Human Rights. He was an ‘outsider’ candidate catapulted to the top post without having been a member of the judiciary.

Camilleri who turned 63 in April, is two years away from official retirement as chief justice. He might still be a possible candidate for successor of Malta’s sitting judge in the EU’s court of justice, Anthony Borg Barthet, who is expected to step down in 2018.


Order of precedence

1.        President of Malta

2.        Prime Minister

3.        Speaker of the House

4.        Archbishop of Malta

5.        Chief Justice

6.        Ministers

7.        Parliamentary Secretaries

8.        Leader of the Opposition

9.        Former Presidents, Former Prime Ministers

10.      Diplomatic Corps

11.      Bishop of Gozo

12.      Principal Permanent Secretary

13.      Judges

14.      Attorney General

15.      Deputy Speaker

16.      MPs

17.      Former archbishops, chief justices, Speakers

18.      Magistrates

19.      Permanent secretaries, Police Commissioner, Commander AFM

20.      Auditor General and Ombudsman