A missed opportunity
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,
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.