Updated | New judges and magistrates can be sworn in after court rejects Repubblika's injunction

Three existing magistrates will become judges and three new candidates will be appointed magistrates • Repubblika seeks court injunction until system of appointments is changed

Six new appointments to the Bench were approved by Cabinet
Six new appointments to the Bench were approved by Cabinet

Updated at 3pm with court's decision

Three magistrates will be appointed judges and three lawyers will join the judiciary for the first time as magistrates after Cabinet approved their nominations.

All six appointments were cleared by the Judicial Appointments Committee, a constitutional body.

Magistrates Francesco Depasquale, Joanne Vella Cuschieri and Aaron Bugeja will become judges, while lawyers Nadine Lia, Victor Axiak and Bridget Sultana will be appointed magistrates.

The swearing in ceremony will happen this afternoon after Judge Mark Chetcuti rejected a court application filed with urgency by civil society NGO Repubblika asking for the appointments to be blocked.

The court ruled that "no irrevocable prejudice" would be created by the appointments and hence rejected Repubblika's appeal.

In its court application signed by lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Simon Busuttil, both Nationalist Party MPs, Repubblika asked the court to stop the appointments until a new system of choosing judges is introduced.

The NGO said that the government had accepted the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission recommendations to introduce a different method of appointing judges in a way to guarantee their judicial independence.

Ironically, Azzopardi and Busuttil had in the last legislature, voted in Parliament for the creation of a Judicial Appointments Committee that introduced the concept of screening and recommendation by a body independent of the government.

The Venice Commission had commented that the constitutional amendments of 2016, which introduced the JAC, were a step in the right direction, but fell short of ensuring judicial independence.

“Further steps are required. The principle of independence of the judiciary requires that the selection of judges and magistrates be made upon merit and any undue political influence should be excluded,” Repubblika said, quoting the Venice Commission report.

In their court application, Repubblika said the government was appointing six new people to the Bench using a system it has “already admitted amounts to undue interference” on judicial independence.

“Repubblika’s application of this morning is of major significance as it asks the courts to examine the quality of our democracy. This is after the world’s most respected commission of experts on the legislative and constitutional design of democracies has conducted its examination,” the NGO said, while not excluding taking the case further to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg where an examination of the Polish system is underway.

The NGO said its criticism was not directed at the individuals appointed to the posts but the system adopted to appoint the judiciary.

The appointments were made necessary after the departure of Judge Lorraine Schembri Orland, who will shortly take up her seat at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and the retirement of Judge Silvio Meli.

Francesco Deapsquale
Francesco Deapsquale

Who are the new judges and magistrates?

Joanne Vella Cuschieri
Joanne Vella Cuschieri

The new judges

Aaron Bugeja
Aaron Bugeja

Francesco Depasquale: He was appointed a magistrate in 2011. Depasquale became a lawyer in 1995. He is secretary general of the association of magistrates and judges. He is married and has two children.

Joanne Vella Cuschieri: She was appointed a magistrate in 2014. Cuschieri became a lawyer in 2001. She worked as a legal consultant on labour law and planning law. She contested the 2013 general election with the Labour Party. She is married with three children.

Aaron Bugeja: Appointed a magistrate in 2013 after having served as a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s office between 2006 and 2013.

Nadine Lia
Nadine Lia

He became a lawyer in 1995 and is famous for having led the Egrant inquiry. He is married with two children.

Victor Axiak
Victor Axiak

The new magistrates

Bridgitte Sultana
Bridgitte Sultana

Nadine Lia: She became a lawyer in 2004 and worked for a time as a barrister in London. Lia also worked as a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s office in Malta. She is married with two children.

Victor Axiak: He became a lawyer in 2005 and specialised in tax law. He served as a consultant to the Tax Department and the Lands Department. He is married with two children.

Bridgitte Sultana: She became a lawyer in 1995 and served for many years as a lawyer in the health ministry. She is currently director responsible for legal services in the health ministry with specialisation in medicine law. She has two children.

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