A missed op­por­tu­nity

Malta Independent - - SIMON ON MONDAY -

To­day Dr Toni Abela will join his long­time friend and po­lit­i­cal part­ner Judge Wenzu Mintoff. He will be ap­pointed to serve on the bench. On a per­sonal level, we con­grat­u­late Judge Abela on his ap­point­ment and wish him the best of luck in his new en­deav­ours. How­ever, on the pub­lic stage, this news­pa­per can­not but show its dis­ap­point­ment at the newly con­sti­tuted com­mit­tee on ju­di­cial ap­point­ments made up of the Chief Jus­tice, the At­tor­ney Gen­eral, the Om­buds­man, the Au­di­tor Gen­eral and the pres­i­dent of the Cham­ber of Ad­vo­cates. This is the first ap­point­ment made by this com­mit­tee, which was con­sti­tuted with so much fan­fare and pre­sented to the elec­torate as a pos­i­tive step for­ward to­wards fur­ther trans­parency and in­de­pen­dence within the ju­di­cial sys­tem. But in its first ap­point­ment, the com­mit­tee failed in send­ing a strong mes­sage that ap­point­ments to the bench will no longer be an op­por­tu­nity for po­lit­i­cal par­ties in gov­ern­ment to award a re­tire­ment golden hand­shake to for­mer politi­cians. We thought that the new com­mit­tee,

Ed­i­tor’s pick

com­posed of the high­est hon­ourable men in the coun­try, would use this first op­por­tu­nity to ap­point pro­fes­sion­als in the le­gal field who would garner re­spect from all parts of so­ci­ety. But in­stead it seems that fol­low­ing the failed at­tempt to send its for­mer Deputy Leader to the Euro­pean Court of Au­di­tors, the Labour Party had another shot at rid­ding it­self of Dr Abela by ap­point­ing him a judge at the Mal­tese Courts. We hope that Dr Abela will rise above his par­ti­san be­liefs and fol­low the likes of his friends Dr Wenzu Mintoff and Dr Joe Mif­sud who were made judge and mag­is­trate re­spec­tively. The two gentle­men have so far shown pro­fes­sion­al­ism and fair stance when de­liv­er­ing their judg­ments. Some might ar­gue that both Dr Mintoff and Dr Mif­sud, and other for­mer politi­cians who were ap­pointed to the bench in the past, are liv­ing proof that peo­ple can shed their par­ti­san pedi­gree and act fairly, but this is be­side the point we are try­ing to make. It was the wrong mes­sage sent by the com­mit­tee on ju­di­cial ap­point­ments to se­lect a con­tentious can­di­da­ture like that of Dr Abela as their first ap­point­ment.

Be­sides his feisty po­lit­i­cal ca­reer and the con­tro­ver­sial failed nom­i­na­tion to the ECA, Dr Abela’s ap­point­ment ig­nores the al­le­ga­tions lev­eled at him dur­ing the 2013 elec­toral cam­paign in re­la­tion to an al­leged cover-up of il­licit sub­stances found in a Labour Party club. The fact that the PL won that elec­tion and the new ad­min­is­tra­tion never both­ered to in­ves­ti­gate Dr Abela’s ac­tions re­lated to that in­ci­dent does not mean that he has been lifted off the hook. To ap­point a judge with such bag­gage does not au­gur well for the com­mit­tee’s work in the fu­ture. At face value, it seems that the com­mit­tee suc­cumbed to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure when ap­point­ing Dr Abela. Such pres­sure need not be di­rected by the Min­is­ter or some­one above him, but it could sim­ply be another self-im­posed form of ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ at­ti­tude, whereby the top brass in the le­gal field could not muster the courage to say no to the po­lit­i­cal class.

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