[WATCH] Justice Minister says he would never hinder the decisions of Attorney General

Labour MP Alex Muscat and Nationalist MP Robert Cutajar discuss the rule of law on tonight’s Xtra, while Justice Minister Owen Bonnici says the Attorney General’s discretion is respected

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said he would never think of interfering with the Attorney General’s decisions, out of respect for what he said is the rule of law at play.

In a pre-recorded comment which aired on Xtra on Thursday, Saviour Balzan asked Bonnici whether he, as justice minister, ever gave orders to the AG on how he should act.

“This wouldn’t even cross my mind,” Bonnici said. “I would never interfere with the decisions made by the AG. Actually, I only get to know of his decisions in the same manner everyone else does – through the media. This is the real rule of law.”

Attorney General Peter Grech was appointed under the previous administration and benefits from a two-thirds majority in Parliament in terms of security of tenure.

“Other developed countries cannot do this,” Bonnici said, speaking of cases in which justice ministers in other democracies have sacked their AG. “This never happened in our case.”

The government cannot keep hiding behind the excuse that the AG was appointed under the previous administration, Nationalist MP Robert Cutajar said, because that which is happening now did not happen under the PN.

Robert Cutajar
Robert Cutajar

“Out of respect for his office, the AG should have resigned,” Cutajar said, explaining that the issue did not arise solely due to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. “Why are we only talking about [the assassination]? That was just the cherry of the cake. But this is only one incident in a series of episodes.”

Cutajar cited the Zonqor contracts, Vitals, and the Pilatus Bank issue as examples of these “episodes”.

“I notice a switch in approach,” Labour MP Alex Muscat said. “The AG was good under the PN – and now all of a sudden he’s not.”

Muscat said that a problematic ‘attitude’ – such as resorting to insulting the police commissioner – pushes people to lose faith in the institutions.

Saviour Balzan suggested the possibility that the government, due to its strength and popularity, dismisses these issues since it is confident it could ‘weather the storm’.

While recognising the possibility, Muscat said that history has proven otherwise, as resignations did take place in the past.

Insisting he is “not bothered” by criticism, Muscat said that the subject has been “exasperated” and become an “exaggerated caricature”.

Muscat invited critics to look at what the government has done in the past five years in the remit of rule of law.

Alex Muscat
Alex Muscat

Bonnici said that many of the statements made about Malta in the past seven months were unjust, insisting that it is not true that there is no rule of law in the country. “Malta is one of the strongest democracies in which rule of law does function,” he said, citing the recent media bill which passed this week, increasing press freedom and doing away with criminal libel.

“Is the system perfect? No, there is work to be done, but compared to other countries, I’d defend ours anytime and anywhere.”

Indeed, Muscat said that the way the media reports about Malta does leave an effect, adding that he witnessed “shallow reportage” which only took things at “face value.”

“This is damaging to the country,” he said, stating that the international media – which criticised Malta from all angles following the assassination of Caruana Galizia – had actually failed to report the fact that three persons were indeed charged for the murder.