During the swearing-in ceremony of newly-appointed Mr Justice Antonio Mizzi and Magistrates Aaron Bugeja and Charmaine Galea at the President’s Palace in Valletta yesterday, Malta’s Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri unexpectedly criticised the manner in which the commission set up by the government has gone about conducting the judicial review. He publicly vented his anger and frustration that neither he nor any other member of the judiciary was consulted as part of the judicial review. He said that he learnt about the ‘revolutionary’ proposals from the media. The commission was set up a few weeks after Labour was elected to government and is headed by Judge Emeritus Giovanni Bonello.
“I am sorry to say that am not happy about the manner in which the judicial review was handled” he said. The Chief Justice said he was baffled how the commission found the time to present its proposals to the media and on television but did not even bother to consult the judiciary on such a sensitive subject.
In what was supposed to be a two-minute speech, which eventually took about 15 minutes the Chief Justice also complained that the Commission for the Administration of Justice was completely ignored, and expressed his concern that rather than being strengthened some of the proposal point in the opposite direction.
“The only consolation is that things can only get better” said Dr Camilleri.
He said some of the proposals are seemingly intended to demote the Chief Justice both as a reference point in the judiciary and also in his role as mediator with the administration.
Dr Camilleri said he was left astonished when he learnt that that there is pressure so that ‘promotions’ and disciplinary measures no longer fall under the remit of the Commission for the Administration of Justice.
“I fail to understand how somebody who wants to give more teeth to the commission, at the same time removes its two canines” said Dr Camilleri.
He remarked that some issues are not negotiable. “Members of the judiciary can do without increases in allowances and pensions, but they are not ready to sacrifice their impartiality and independence in the name of what others deem as ‘efficiency’ or more discipline”.
On the other hand, he said that members of the judiciary are willing to put themselves under scrutiny. He concluded his outburst saying that he could not let this opportunity go by without sharing his views on such an important matter like the judicial review.
His remarks took everyone by surprise, including Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Parliamentary Secretary Owen Bonnici who tried to keep a brave face and hide their obvious embarrassment.
Nevertheless the prime minister who addressed those present immediately after Dr Camilleri tried to play down his criticism saying that not even government was briefed by the recommendations “since this report was commissioned by an independent body”.
The prime minister said that at this stage government is being very careful not to pronounce itself on the recommendations presented by the commission as these may include constitutional amendments which require a two thirds parliamentary majority. Dr Muscat said that the commission’s second report will be out shortly.
In his remarks President George Abela said that it is positive that justice at the moment is at the top of the country’s agenda. He said that the most common issue is the length of proceedings. Dr Abela emphasised that the commission’s report which is a preliminary one, gives a snapshot of the situation.
‘You need a tinge of masochism to accept such post’ – Chief Justice
In his message to the newly-appointed members of the judiciary, the Chief Justice warned them they are in for a hard time remarking that “those willing to accept such posts need to have also a tinge of masochism”.
“The most you can expect is criticism if not lack of respect from certain quarters” remarked Dr Camilleri. He added that members of the judiciary have a lot on their plate, and at times they do not have even enough time the time to go on holiday with their family as they would be urgently required to preside a case.
The Chief Justice lauded the new members of the judiciary for choosing to stay in Malta rather than serve in a foreign judicial institution “where resources would be much more abundant”. He said that one of the areas which surely needs improvement is the delay to fill vacant posts in the judiciary.
On his part Mr Justice Antonio Mizzi said that after a 25-year career as a magistrate, he is looking forward to serving in his new role and pledged to do his utmost “even though it is almost impossible to make both sides happy when handing down a judgement”.[Source: The Malta Independent]