Attorney General Peter Grech.
The Opposition will be voting against amendments to split the dual role of the Attorney General as public prosecutor and lawyer to the government, MP Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici said on Monday.Dr Mifsud Bonnici said during the first reading of the State Advocate Bill the Opposition had no choice but to vote against it due to the fact that the government had failed to allow for the selection of the Attorney General by a two-thirds majority of the House.The proposed amendments would create the new role of State Advocate, taking over the current Attorney General’s role as primary consultant to the government on legal issues, while the Attorney General office would retain its penal law functions.Presenting the bill, justice minister Owen Bonnici said that although the consolidation of the two functions had been preserved by various governments at various stages in Malta’s history, it was now time for it to change.He stressed, however, that the system currently in place was not improper or in violation of human rights, and had been vetted and approved prior to EU accession.
Attorney General to get new prosecution powersWhile the office of State Advocate would be created from scratch, he said, the Attorney General would in turn gain new powers to prosecute. The incumbent Peter Grech, Dr Bonnici said, had met with “unjust” criticism as a result of the fact that the power to initiate prosecution did not lie with the office of the Attorney General but with the Commissioner for Police.Currently, the police both investigate and prosecute, but the latter power will gradually pass to the Attorney General's office under the new law.Dr Bonnici said this change would begin with more serious offences, with the list of offences to which this applied being added to in time in order to avoid a shock to the system and to allow the new Attorney General's Office to build a complement of lawyers experienced in the exercise of the new functions of that Office.In the meantime, the police would gain a new Prosecution Unit, which would continue to fall under the structures of the Police Corps whilst taking direction from the Attorney General.The State Advocate will enjoy the same security of tenure as the current Attorney General, and both offices will be appointed by the Prime Minister’s recommendation to the President, following a public call and after an Appointment Commission had expressed its views.
Proposals do not address key issues - OppositionDr Mifsud Bonnici, however, said the government’s attitude sought to bank on the Opposition’s calls for reform in the sector by assuming that the Opposition’s credibility would be damaged if it failed to vote in favour of the bill despite the omission of its key proposal, that of consensus in the appointment of the Attorney General.The Opposition MP also pointed out that the Government had not brought the Bill before the House with the consent of the Opposition, which was long-established practice for laws involving constitutional amendments.By presenting it in Parliament without having first obtained feedback from the Opposition, the Government was showing that its rhetoric about consultation and consensus was simply keeping up appearances.Dr Mifsud Bonnici cautioned the Government with respect to overlap between the two functions of State Advocate and Attorney General. He insisted that if the two offices were to remain functionally separate, they should have physically separate premises and separate personnel.Approving of the introduction of an annual report which each office would have to submit to the Minister, and which would detail the work accomplished by each office during the year, he suggested that this report be discussed before a Committee of the House if not in plenary.
Earlier, civil society NGO Repubblika called on MPs not to back the amendments, which it said did not address address the grave concerns of the Venice Commission on the set-up and the independence of the Attorney General .
The group said the changes forces one of the new roles to report to the other, meaning the functions were not really separated, and did nothing to alter the Prime Minister's exclusive power of appointment.
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