The Chief Justice has been called upon to abstain from presiding over an appeal filed by civil society NGO Repubblika, in which it is challenging the appointment of new members of the judiciary.
The case had been filed in an attempt to annul judicial appointments until the government implemented the Venice Commission’s recommendations on the selection process. Repubblika is arguing that no new members of the judiciary should have been appointed until a revised system of appointments was in place.
In May, the First Hall, Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction had ruled that Repubblika did not have the required juridical interest under Maltese law, but had also postponed a decision about a reference to the European Court of Justice on the issue.
That Court had upheld appeal requests from both parties, stating that the issue required direction from the Constitutional Court.
However, when oral submissions began on Monday afternoon, Repubblika’s lawyers, Jason Azzopardi and Simon Busuttil, asked the Chief Justice to abstain.
Emphasising that the challenge was not due to doubts on his integrity, Dr Jason Azzopardi explained that in terms of the Constitution it was the Chief Justice who made recommendations to the Prime Minister about the suitability of prospective candidates to the Bench.
Additionally, the Chief Justice also had the sole prerogative of assigning duties to newly appointed magistrates and judges, Azzopardi pointed out.
Dismissing the request would cause “judicial schizophrenia”, Azzopardi warned, since the Chief Justice would have, on one hand, recommended the appointments and assigned duties to them, while on the other hand, was now being asked to annul the same appointments.
Having heard both parties make their submissions, Chief Justice Azzopardi, assisted by Mr Justice Giannino Caruana Demajo and Mr. Justice Noel Cuschieri, adjourned the case to next week for a definitive ruling.