Pieter Omtzigt (Netherlands, EPP/CD), PACE rapporteur on the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the rule of law in Malta, today welcomed the Venice Commission’s opinion on the Maltese government’s reform proposals and expressed his concern at recent revelations about the Maltese police and criminal justice system.
“This new opinion is a welcome sign that the Maltese government recognises the need for fundamental reform and is willing to engage with the international community,” said Mr Omtzigt. “I am especially pleased to see that the judicial appointment procedure would be very much improved. This is absolutely essential to ensuring judicial independence. It is also good to see that independent oversight bodies, namely the Ombudsman, Commissioner for Standards in Public Life and Auditor General, as injured parties, would be able to bring corruption cases directly to the Attorney General and to appeal against inaction.”
“On other crucial issues, there is still a lot to do”, he continued. “The Prime Minister’s powers of appointment may still be too extensive. There is a lack of clarity on ‘persons of trust’ and ‘positions of trust’, which have been abused to reward party members and buy the compliance of MPs. Nothing is being done to turn parliament into an effective scrutineer. The Attorney General has still not taken responsibility for prosecutions from the police – even though the law allowing this was passed almost a year ago. Magistrates’ inquiry powers will not be transferred to the Attorney General – even though magisterial inquiries are demonstrably failing in high-profile cases.”
“Also, for now the proposals are just concepts, and some are conditional. Nothing will actually change until new laws and constitutional amendments are adopted and in force. These texts will need further scrutiny to ensure that they give the promised results. So far, there has been no proper public consultation, despite repeated calls by the Venice Commission and the Assembly. Genuine consultation on these proposals will be necessary before bills are laid before parliament. I call on the government to implement the latest Venice Commission opinion rapidly and in full, correcting, completing and consulting on the reform package, as necessary. It is beyond high time for this endless process to produce some real results.”
“The Venice Commission opinion, with its focus on checks and balances and the criminal justice system, comes as Malta’s reputation is further besmirched by yet more revelations of corruption and impunity. Former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar is under investigation for tipping off a suspect in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Former Deputy Commissioner Silvio Valletta is under investigation for his dealings with the suspected mastermind, after he fell under suspicion. Testimony from officers in the Economic Crimes Unit has revealed confusion, procrastination and apathy – to put it charitably – in the unit’s work on ‘political’ cases.”
“As my report made clear, it is all connected – the weaknesses in the rule of law, the impunity for corruption and the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. There is also an international dimension, with related investigations in Italy, France and Latvia – maybe more. Malta’s criminal justice system is still not fit for purpose, and the promised reforms will not bear fruit for months, at least. The world has already waited long enough. The authorities should now establish Joint Investigation Teams with foreign police forces that are tackling related issues, so that there can at last be an end to impunity in Malta, and justice for Daphne.”