Opposition to vote against Bill splitting Attorney General’s roles

Government ignored suggestions for the requirement of two-thirds parliamentary majority for an AG's appointment, PN MP Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici laments

PN MP Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici lamented the fact that the government had note taken on board suggestions for the AG's appointment to be subject to a two-thirds majority in Parliament
PN MP Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici lamented the fact that the government had note taken on board suggestions for the AG's appointment to be subject to a two-thirds majority in Parliament

The Opposition will be voting against Constitutional amendments which will be separating the Attorney General’s dual role, PN MP Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici indicated.

Discussions on a Bill which will be splitting the AG’s roles into two started in Parliament on Monday.

The Bill will be creating a new role, that of State Attorney, with the Attorney General now retaining only his prosecutorial roles. The State Attorney will be taking on the advisory functions of being a lawyer to the state.

However, Mifsud Bonnici, in a lengthy address in Parliament - which concluded with the former justice minister saying that the Opposition would not be supporting the Bill - lamented that the government had not taken on suggestions to establish the requirement of a two-thirds parliamentary majority to appoint the AG.

“Instead, you’ve delegated the choice of AG to a board,” Mifsud Bonnici said.

He argued that Parliament would have been capable of arriving at a two-thirds agreement on who to appoint AG, as it had already been managing to do when it came to the appointing of the Ombudsman and the Auditor General.

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici

The powers of both offices - that of AG and State Attorney - will remain the same, except for a small improvement in the AG’s powers, Mifsud Bonnici further noted.

Earlier, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said the Bill would be marking “the future of the justice system in Malta”.

Once it goes through Parliament, the Bill would be splitting the AG’s two functions, creating “from scratch” the office of an attorney for the state, Bonnici said.

The State Attorney will be selected following a public call, and a decision made by a selection board and a recommendation from the Prime Minister. When current AG Peter Grech retires, the new AG will be too be selected using the same method.

“This is exactly what the Venice Commissioner recommended,” Bonnici underscored.

Moreover, the AG will also be given a new power to prosecute, Bonnici said, as he stressed that, contrary to the popular misconception spread by the government’s critics, the AG currently cannot prosecute, as this role lies in the lap of the Police Commissioner.

“The power to initiate prosecution isn’t in the hands of the AG. In Malta, it is in the hands of the Police Commissioner,” Bonnici said, “It is a myth and a lie that the AG currently has the power to initiate prosecution. This lies with the police.”

Through the new law, the power to initiate prosecution will pass on from the Police Commissioner to the AG, he said. “This won’t happen overnight - there will be a roll-out starting from the most serious cases, and this will gradually be extended to other cases.”

When it comes to cases related to district police or summary cases, it is not excluded that the police will retain the power to prosecute in such instances, he said.

“Through this law, we will be marking the beginning of a process, whereby the AG will have the power to prosecute for serious cases immediately.”

The person prosecuting, for the first time in history, will have security of tenure, and cannot be removed by the Justice Minister, Bonnici underlined. “He can only be removed by a two-thirds agreement in Parliament after he is found to have acted wrongly,” he added.

New prosecution unit

Bonnici also said that a prosecution unit made up of ex-policemen or current policemen who want to specialise in prosecuting will be set up, and will be answerable to the AG. Eventually, once it establishes itself, lawyers will also be able to join the unit too.

“Prosecution has now become a specialisation,” Bonnici remarked.

The Justice Minister later took to Twitter to express his "incredulity" that the Opposition would be voting against the Bill.

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