Lawyers should sit for psy­cho­me­t­ric tests be­fore be­ing awarded war­rant

The out­go­ing pres­i­dent of the Cham­ber of Ad­vo­cates, GE­ORGE HYZLER, tells Rachel At­tard that in­tro­duc­ing a psy­cho­me­t­ric test for new lawyers would en­sure that they do not only have the re­quired aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tions but are also trust­wor­thy. He also spea

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - GE­ORGE HYZLER

Dur­ing your term as pres­i­dent of the Cham­ber of Ad­vo­cates, we saw change in the way mag­is­trates and judges are ap­pointed. Are you sat­is­fied?

The Cham­ber had started a cam­paign to en­cour­age the govern­ment to re­lin­quish its ex­clu­sive power to se­lect and ap­point mem­bers of the ju­di­ciary. I think the cam­paign was suc­cess­ful in part and I am, to a cer­tain ex­tent, sat­is­fied. How­ever, we did not man­age to per­suade the govern­ment to di­vest it­self al­to­gether of this right it has held since our new Con­sti­tu­tion fol­low­ing In­de­pen­dence, but we did man­age to bring about changes to the Con­sti­tu­tion and have the Ju­di­cial Ap­point­ments Com­mit­tee set up. This com­mit­tee vets ap­pli­ca­tions by per­sons in­ter­ested in be­ing ap­pointed to the ju­di­ciary and makes the nec­es­sary as­sess­ment of com­pe­tence and suit­abil­ity of the can­di­date who sub­mits an ex­pres­sion of in­ter­est and makes its rec­om­men­da­tions to the Min­is­ter for Jus­tice. The de­ci­sion whether the can­di­date will be nom­i­nated or not re­mains the pre­rog­a­tive of the Ex­ec­u­tive. This is a step in the right di­rec­tion but, ad­mit­tedly, falls short of what the Cham­ber thinks should be the cor­rect method of ap­point­ment.

Do you think it was cor­rect that in the last 25 years peo­ple with po­lit­i­cal bag­gage or a po­lit­i­cal back­ground were ap­pointed mag­is­trates or judges?

In a coun­try such as ours, it is prac­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble to find can­di­dates who have no po­lit­i­cal back­ground what­so­ever. Hav­ing a po­lit­i­cal back­ground does not nec­es­sar­ily con­sti­tute bag­gage. I think it is more a case of per­cep­tion and how one would have con­ducted one­self when in­volved in pol­i­tics. Hav­ing said that, I have ab­so­lutely no prob­lem with the ap­point­ment of mem­bers of the ju­di­ciary who have held strong po­lit­i­cal be­liefs and who mil­i­tated in one party or an­other. I do ap­pre­ci­ate that this is quite a con­tro­ver­sial opin­ion and that it is prob­a­bly best to avoid such sit­u­a­tions. But his­tory has shown that, when peo­ple are ap­pointed to the bench, they aban­don their past po­lit­i­cal al­le­giance, they rise above it and live up to their new re­spon­si­bil­ity. I have no prob­lem with the way mem­bers of the ju­di­ciary com­ing from the po­lit­i­cal arena had con­ducted them­selves.

Al­most four years have passed since you were elected pres­i­dent of the Cham­ber. Is there any­thing that you wished to im­ple­ment and did not have time to?

When I was elected, I set my­self three tar­gets; the first was the re­form of the method of ap­point­ment of mem­bers of the ju­di­ciary, the sec­ond, the en­act­ment of the Lawyers’ Act, and the third, rais­ing the stan­dards of the pro­fes­sion. The first tar­get has been reached, in part. It is up to my suc­ces­sors to con­tinue the task of push­ing for fur­ther re­forms. The Lawyers’ Act still has to be en­acted but we have made sig­nif­i­cant in­roads and I now have full con­fi­dence that this will be im­ple­mented since I have all the as­sur­ance from the govern­ment and other stake­hold­ers re­gard­ing its im­ple­men­ta­tion. I was not pre­pared to leave the Cham­ber and take up the post of Com­mis­sioner for Stan­dards in Pub­lic Life un­less I knew that this law would be en­acted.

As re­gards the rais­ing of stan­dards of the pro­fes­sion, we have taken a num­ber of ini­tia­tives and gone pub­lic on is­sues that, in our view, af­fect ad­versely the trust the pub­lic has in the le­gal pro­fes­sion. The is­sue of the two grad­u­ates with a crim­i­nal record is a case in point. That in­ci­dent served to il­lus­trate how the Cham­ber has the in­ter­est of the pro­fes­sion and of the pub­lic at heart.

An­other mea­sure that the Cham­ber should con­sider in the near fu­ture is to in­tro­duce psy­cho­me­t­ric tests be­fore lawyers are al­lowed to prac­tise. The war­rant serves as the state’s guar­an­tee that the in­di­vid­ual does not only pos­sess the aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tion (that is given by the Uni­ver­sity de­gree) but that the per­son can be trusted. Every­body should have the op­por­tu­nity to ob­tain an aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tion but not ev­ery­one should be al­lowed to prac­tice. I feel very strongly about this. The state should not is­sue a cer­tifi­cate of re­li­a­bil­ity to some­one who is not trust­wor­thy for one rea­son or an­other. That is tan­ta­mount to the is­sue of a false cer­tifi­cate.

Why was the Lawyers Act so im­por­tant to the ex­tent that you would not ac­cept the new post be­fore be­ing given as­sur­ances that it would be im­ple­mented?

The Cham­ber has been ac­tively cam­paign­ing for the en­act­ment of the lawyers’ act for at least ten years. It is im­por­tant both for the county and the le­gal pro­fes­sion to re­tain cred­i­bil­ity and for peo­ple to trust lawyers. It is ironic that it is the Cham­ber that is cam­paign­ing for this law. One would nor­mally have ex­pected the govern­ment to in­sist on such leg­is­la­tion in the in­ter­est of the pub­lic in gen­eral. At the mo­ment, the pro­fes­sion is not reg­u­lated other than in cases of breach of ethics. Take the reg­u­la­tion of law firms as an ex­am­ple. To­day, they are com­pletely un­reg­u­lated; some claim to be part­ner­ships when they are not, or that they are made up of a num­ber of part­ners when it is not nec­es­sar­ily true. Also, it is time to change our view as to who can pro­vide cer­tain types of le­gal ser­vices. As the law stands only lawyers can give le­gal ad­vice when we all know that cer­tain other pro­fes­sions are just as qual­i­fied to do so.

Do all mem­bers of the Cham­ber agree with the Lawyers Act?

You al­ways have ex­cep­tions and you will al­ways have lawyers who would pre­fer to be un­reg­u­lated. But the ma­jor­ity agree with this and cer­tainly all lawyers who ap­pre­ci­ate the im­por­tance of strength­en­ing the pro­fes­sion and its cred­i­bil­ity.

If the Lawyers Act were in place, would we have avoided the in­ci­dent of the two law stu­dents who have a past con­vic­tion and whether they qual­i­fied for a war­rant?

The present struc­tures should have catered for this sit­u­a­tion. The Lawyers Act may not nec­es­sar­ily have had any im­pact on their ap­proval since the war­rant shall re­main the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the State. What the act would do is to give the Cham­ber of Ad­vo­cates more power to mon­i­tor the ac­tiv­ity fol­low­ing the grant of the war­rant.

In the past years, doubts and con­cern were raised re­gard­ing the role of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral (AG). Are th­ese con­cerns jus­ti­fied?

The role of the AG is quite am­bigu­ous be­cause while the AG works au­tonomously of govern­ment, it is also the govern­ment’s lawyer at the same time. I think, and this is my view and cer­tainly the Cham­ber’s view, that we have reached a stage in our de­vel­op­ment where the AG should not oc­cupy th­ese two roles si­mul­ta­ne­ously. They should be dis­tinct from each other; the is­sue of the of­fice of the prose­cu­tor which is on the cards will split the role of the AG. I think that would be an­other step for­ward.

Are you sat­is­fied with the work done by the Min­istry for Jus­tice?

I think that on the whole the cur­rent Min­istry has per­formed well. The Jus­tice Min­istry has in­tro­duced a num­ber of im­prove­ments to court fa­cil­i­ties and took steps to ad­dress the back­log of cases, by for in­stance in­tro­duc­ing court at­tor­neys to as­sist judges in draft­ing judge­ments. It has also done well to in­crease the con­di­tions of em­ploy­ment of mem­bers of the ju­di­ciary. This was long over­due. In my last speech at the open­ing of the foren­sic year, I raised the is­sue that de­spite the in­crease of the court at­tor­neys, the num­ber of judg­ments that are be­ing given is lower than the num­ber given be­fore their ap­point­ment. I asked how this could be the case and why this is hap­pen­ing. There might be a valid rea­son but some­body has to raise this is­sue since the num­bers do not add up. You can­not have court at­tor­neys ap­pointed to as­sist judges and the out­put in­stead of in­creas­ing is re­duced.

Con­cretely, what will your role as Com­mis­sioner for Stan­dards in Pub­lic Life en­tail?

I will be sworn in on 12th Novem­ber and un­til then I do not think I should be speak­ing about my role es­pe­cially since this is a first and we do not have the ben­e­fit of ex­pe­ri­ence. All I can say is that I will be what could be called the par­lia­men­tary watch­dog. I am ap­pointed to look into breaches by Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment and per­sons ap­pointed in po­si­tions of trust in Min­istries. My job will be to scru­ti­nise their be­hav­iour, check if a breach of ethics has oc­curred, ex­am­ine their dec­la­ra­tions of in­come, is­sue guide­lines, etc. Ba­si­cally, we will be look­ing at what hap­pened in other coun­tries and learn from their ex­pe­ri­ence. We do not need to rein­vent the wheel. We need to en­sure that par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and per­sons of trust are ac­count­able in terms of be­hav­iour, be­cause th­ese peo­ple are now sub­ject to scru­tiny by not only the me­dia and the gen­eral pub­lic but now also by this new of­fice.

One of your jobs as Com­mis­sioner for Stan­dards is to scru­ti­nise the dec­la­ra­tion of as­sets. Would you con­sider ask­ing MPs to start declar­ing the as­sets of their spouses/part­ners as well?

I still have to form an opin­ion on this. All I can say is that the Com­mis­sioner has the power to in­ves­ti­gate and en­sure that the dec­la­ra­tions made are cor­rect. This would in­clude the right to ask for in­come tax re­turns of any­body re­lated or con­nected with the per­son mak­ing the dec­la­ra­tion.

As Com­mis­sioner, will you be look­ing into past cases and, if yes, how back­wards will you be go­ing?

No, I shall not be do­ing so. The law pro­hibits me from in­ves­ti­gat­ing any­thing that oc­curred be­fore the com­ing into force of the law on 30th Oc­to­ber 2018. My work ef­fec­tively starts on the day I take oath.

Will you be re­sign­ing from your le­gal firm?

Yes, I have al­ready done so. I have given up my in­ter­ests in the le­gal firm and all the com­pa­nies I was in­volved in as direc­tor and/or com­pany sec­re­tary, I have re­signed from my po­si­tion as Chair­man of the Malta Ar­bi­tra­tion Cen­tre, Pres­i­dent of the Cham­ber of Ad­vo­cates and my term as Non-Res­i­dent High Com­mis­sioner to South Africa has come to an end. Ba­si­cally, I re­signed from all po­si­tions that I held.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malta

© PressReader. All rights reserved.