[WATCH] Agreement on Chief Justice is first step towards national reconciliation – Edward Zammit Lewis

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis says bi-partisan agreement on appointing Judge Mark Chetcuti as Chief Justice is the first step towards national reconciliation and repairing Malta’s reputation

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis was a guest on Thursday night's Xtra
Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis was a guest on Thursday night's Xtra

The bipartisan agreement on the appointment of Malta’s new chief justice marks the road forward when it comes to national reconciliation, Edward Zammit Lewis said

The Justice Minister praised the “historic step” taken earlier this week when Mark Chetcuti was appointed as the new Chief Justice with the mutual agreement of the government and Opposition.

He noted that this divergence from past practice - which saw prime ministers have full discretion on who to appoint - is “not just a historic step but the first step forward”.

Zammit Lewis was speaking during an interview on last night’s Xtra.

He said that Prime Minister Robert Abela had always had a goal of bipartisan consensus in mind with regard to the post of Chief Justice, since this was a role which could help bring about “national unity”.

“It is the road forward”, Zammit Lewis said, “Our country needs national reconciliation. It needs to build its international reputation, both on a European perspective, and well as for the broader international community”.

The Justice Minister added that this is merely the first step of many measures and reforms that will be undertaken so that the country will be well positioned to build up and bolster its reputation.

Questioned by presenter Saviour Balzan as to what should be expected from the new Chief Justice, Zammit Lewis said that apart from the values of honesty and integrity, there is also more efficiency needed in the judicial system.

“It is important that we work on this”, Zammit Lewis said, “we are not yet efficient enough. This is a message to all the magistrates and judges. The people expect more efficiency.”

Zammit Lewis went on to say that it is unacceptable that any magisterial inquiry, irrespective of what it may be concerned with, should last for longer than a year.

“Although I have no doubt in the quality of the work of the magistrates in their role as enquiring magistrates, the levels of efficiency are not good enough”, he said, adding that he is looking into whether any amendments to existing laws can be carried out to help speed up these legal processes.

The Justice Minister also defended the government’s proposed system for the selection of the country’s police commissioner, which will not require bipartisan consensus, but will consist of a public call, after which there will be a screening process by the Public Appointments Committee, followed by a Parliamentary scrutiny of the shortlisted candidates.

The difference between the two positions, Zammit Lewis said, is that the Chief Justice is a representative of the state, and of one of the principal pillars of a democratic society, while the Police Commissioner is merely a functionary within a public institution.

“The system we have is a good and meritocratic one”, Zammit Lewis insisted, noting that it is a far cry from the days when the Prime Minister could appoint whoever he wanted for the role, without any oversight whatsoever.

The Minister also pointed out that the Public Appointments Committee which will be carrying out the shortlisting process has two members from the Opposition benches on its board, and a Chairman who is selected with the agreement of both parties.

Zammit Lewis concluded by drawing attention to the fact that these are only the first among the many reforms that the government will continue to put out in the coming days, noting that the Cabinet has already approved reforms for the Ombudsman, and for the fight against corruption, amongst others, which will help bring Malta closer in line with the recommendations put forward by the Venice Commission.

“We will go to the Venice Commission and get their approval, we will continue discussing with the Opposition, and we will carry out an interface with those NGOs who showed an interest in these matters, because the road ahead is one of national reconciliation”, Zammit Lewis said.