Reform in judicial appointments to happen before next election – deputy PM

Louis Grech: reform of judiciary appointments will take place before next election, Commissioner for Public Standards to be appointed soon

Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech on Reporter. Photo: Ray Attard
Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech on Reporter. Photo: Ray Attard

Labour will reform the system of appointing judges before the next election, deputy prime minister Louis Grech has pledged.

“We are currently drawing up a bill for an independent mechanism through which judges and magistrates will be appointed, as promised in the PL manifesto,” Grech said on Monday night’s edition of Reporter. “We will either implement the recommendations drawn up by [retired judge] Giovanni Bonello in full or establish a system based on those recommendations.”

Malta’s system of judicial appointments, described by Bonello as “archaic and totalitarian”, was once again thrown into the spotlight last week following the controversial nominations of two new magistrates – Caroline Farrugia Frendo and Ingrid Zammit Young. The latter has since turned down her nomination after the Commission for the Administration of Justice raised doubts over her constitutional eligibility for the post. Opposition leader Simon Busuttil also pledged that a future PN government would take Bonello’s recommendations on board. 

However, Grech insisted that the Labour government will stick to its electoral promise to reform the judicial appointment system by the end of its legislature, as well as introduce hearings for nominees to high public positions. 

“We want to address the cause, and not the symptoms, of the problem,” he said, warning that judicial nominations under the current system will inevitably draw controversy from the Opposition of the day in a country of Malta’s size “where practically everybody is in some way related to a politician”.

‘Abela’s departure will not leave ideological vacuum in PL’

Grech – Labour’s deputy leader for parliamentary affairs – dismissed concerns that the impending departure of fellow PL deputy leader Toni Abela to the European Court of Auditors will leave an ideological vacuum on the left-wing side of the party.

“A left-wing politician is one who supports social justice, which is what the Labour Party is founded on,” he said. “Some people now feel confused about where the government stands, because it strongly supports a free market economy that isn’t usually associated with left-wing politics. However, our manifesto and our Budgets were full of left-wing measures – such as tackling poverty, addressing wealth inequality, increasing pensions, and building homes for vulnerable people.”

He rejected ideological comparisons - aired by former PN minister Michael Falzon - between Joseph Muscat and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair as "incorrect". 

“Social democratic ideology has evolved over the years, and the social priorities of today are not the same as they were half a century ago,” he said. “The question you must ask is whether our principles are based on capital or on social justice. So long as it remains the latter, we will not be betraying our social democratic ideology.”  

In aired comments, former PN minister Michael Falzon had argued that Abela was an internal critic, evidenced by his outspoken editorials in PL weekly Kullhadd, while former PL president Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi had praised his efficiency in communicating with the party’s grassroots.

However, Grech dismissed host Saviour Balzan’s suggestion that Abela’s departure risks rupturing Labour’s core support.

“Abela managed to relate with the grassroots in a humerous manner, but while we will certainly miss his character it will be nonsensical to claim that we want a carbon-copy [of Abela] to replace him,” he said. “Labour’s requirements are different now than they were in the past, and the party is such a strong entity that I’m sure Abela’s departure won’t create a vacuum,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech with Saviour Balzan on Reporter. Photo: Ray Attard
Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech with Saviour Balzan on Reporter. Photo: Ray Attard

‘Spotlight on current government unprecedented’

Grech insisted that the current Labour government is facing levels of scrutiny that were alien to predecessor administrations.

“I welcome scrutiny, as it keeps the government on its toes, but it’s a fact that the public has higher expectations of us than they had of any other government for the past 50 years.”

He admitted that many scandals and controversies – such as the Café Premier and Gaffarena expropriation cases - that occurred under this PL government were “avoidable”.

“There’s a number of reasons why they were allowed to occur. Sometimes, we encountered problems in the system, while in others the government was on a steep learning curve and had enthusiastically wanted to get things done as quickly as possible....”

He said that the government has been “misinterpreted” over its ODZ (outside development zone) policies, insisting that it has now made a conscious decision not to encroach further on it.

“Any exceptions that have to be built on ODZ land must be discussed in Parliament,” he said.  

Grech also admitted that his party must tackle the shortage of good governance, promising that a Commissioner for Public Standards – proposed by the Opposition – will “soon” be appointed to oversee standards of behaviour in the public service. 

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