Prime Minister Robert Abela slammed the latest exercise for the new members of the judiciary on Wednesday, warning that it has become a “closed shop” in which “people who did not serve as magistrates are excluded from the process”.
Using Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony of two former Magistrates – Doreen Clarke and Josette Demicoli, who were made Judges after the latest selection process by the Judicial Appointments Committee (JAC) – Abela took a dig at the latest exercise.
Clearly indicating his disapproval, Abela declared it unacceptable that only sitting Magistrates had been named Judges in the latest judicial appointments exercise, and that other candidates who do not currently form part of the Judiciary had been excluded.
While the Prime Minister did not mention any names, sources close to the Judiciary who preferred to remain anonymous told The Shift that Abela was referring specifically to his preferred candidate, who the JAC had not selected.
It is understood that lawyer Mark Simiana has been mentioned for weeks as likely made a Judge in the next round of appointments.
It has also been an open secret that Simiana was Abela’s candidate of choice and that he had been pushing for his nomination.
Unlike his predecessors, Abela has lost the Prime Ministerial prerogative to nominate members of the Judiciary.
With his hand forced by the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, the law was changed so the appointment of judiciary members would be delegated to the JAC.
Between 2013 and 2020, almost all new members of the Judiciary hailed from the Labour camp, including Judge Toni Abela, who, until just a few weeks before he was appointed Judge, had been the Labour Party’s deputy leader.
The JAC comprises the Chief Justice, two Judges, a Magistrate, the Ombudsman and the President of the Chamber of Advocates, who scrutinise applicants for the Bench and make final recommendations to the President.
In the latest appointment exercise, its second, the JAC agreed Magistrates Clarke and Demicoli were the best fit for the two vacancies available.
Contrary to the impression given by the Prime Minister on Wednesday that the selection process was a closed shop for sitting Magistrates, in its previous 2021 exercise, the JAC recommended two lawyers – Christian Falzon and Ian Spiteri Bailey – to be Judges.
Simiana, who colleagues describe as “diligent” and “respected”, has been the recipient of a number of government appointments since Abela assumed power.
These include a directorship at Malta Industrial Parks – the agency responsible for industrial estates – from which he later resigned, he was also a committee member of the Committee for the Deprivation of Citizenship and sat on another committee that reviews the rules governing the building industry.
Together with former Chief Justice Joe Azzopardi – who the Prime Minister appears intent on appointing as Standards Commissioner at all costs -, Simiana had also been entrusted with investigating the improper conduct of former Malta Financial Services Authority CEO Joseph Cuschieri.