Justice system reform will see decision to prosecute transferred from police to Attorney General

Magisterial inquiries will remain the responsibility of duty magistrates

The decision on whether to prosecute an individual for a crime will fall on the Attorney General and no longer the police, under a proposed reform of the justice system announced by minister Owen Bonnici.

The reform follows an evaluation by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, which recommended that the Attorney Generals roles as prosecutor and legal counsel to the government be split.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday morning, the justice minister said the draft bill was another important step in the government’s reform of the justice system.

The bill, he said, follows other improvements, recently highlighted by the European Commission’s justice scoreboard which has seen the time taken to resolve cases halved in seven years, as well as an increase in the public’s faith in the judiciary.

The proposed Bill, which government will seek to have signed into law before parliament breaks off for summer, will see a new role created, that of a state advocate.

The state advocate, Bonnici said, would have the role of acting as legal counsel and will act in the interests of the state. The role will be constitutionally protected, like that of the AG and the judiciary, Bonnici said.

The new state advocate will be appointed by the Prime Minister, who will be “obliged” to consult with a consultative board which functions in an identical manner to similar boards which recommend members of the judiciary to international courts.

Candidates will be considered following a call for applications.

The Attorney General will keep their role as prosecutor and will have increased powers as recommended by the Venice Commission, Bonnici said. He added that Peter Grech will remain Attorney General.

Following on one of its recommendations, he said the decision on whether to prosecute would no longer be made by the person investigating. As such, he said that investigations would remain the competence of the police, however Attorney General will have the power to ask for information about an investigation.

The Attorney General will not have the power to start an investigation himself, while magisterial inquiries will, at least for the time being, remain the responsibility of duty magistrates.

“This will bring our country in line with European best practices,” he said.

Bonnici said that it was the government's intention to no longer have police officers prosecute in court, with the responsibility being shifted to the Attorney General’s office.

This, he said, could not be implemented overnight, mainly due to the fact that the Attorney General’s office would need to grow substantially, something which was not currently possible due to a low rate of recruitment.

Bonnici stressed that all changes would need to be implemented in an orderly manner in order for ongoing cases not to be prejudiced.

Bonnici said that discussion was underway with the police for this to happen while thanking Home Affairs Minister Michael a Farrugia for his support.

Asked whether the Attorney General would retain the power to stop a prosecution from moving forward, Bonnici said that he would have to be subject to judicial review.

The minister said that the changes being proposed would not require a two-thirds majority in parliament, but said that if the Opposition agrees, they could be entrenched in the constitution.

Bonnici also said that the as part of the government's intention to give the presidential palace back to the people, the Attorney General’s office, together with the new state advocate’s office would be moved to where the fine arts museum previously was.

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