The latest selection of the Judicial Appointments Committee, including two lawyers, has raised eyebrows after Prime Minister Robert Abela, who is officially not allowed a say in the process, criticised the absence of non-magistrates from candidate lists earlier this year.
In an announcement made yesterday evening, the President of Malta, George Vella, announced that Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras and lawyers Henri Mizzi and Mark Simiana will become Judges of the Superior Courts.
These appointments, the second to be made this year, came following the Prime Minister’s scathing criticism earlier this year when two magistrates were selected to become judges.
Calling those appointments “a closed shop”, Abela had used the swearing-in ceremony of new Judges Doreen Clarke and Josette Demicoli to lament that “people who did not serve as magistrates are being excluded from the process”.
Indicating his disapproval of the selection, Abela declared that it was unacceptable that only sitting magistrates were named judges.
In the latest round of appointments, it appears Abela got his way, as out of the three new judges, only one is a magistrate, and the other two are lawyers, including Simiana.
Not free from the pulling of strings
While the prime minister previously had the prerogative of nominating judiciary members, following pressure from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, the system was changed, and the responsibility passed to a specific appointments committee.
Composed of the Chief Justice, two judges, a magistrate, the Ombudsman, and the President of the Chamber of Advocates, the committee shortlists its preferred candidates with the final selection made by the President of Malta.
Sources said that while this process is still not free from “the pulling of strings”, it has significantly restricted the prime minister’s influence on the final outcome.
The Shift is informed that to make sure that his candidate was picked by the Judicial Appointments Committee this time round, the government issued a call for three new judges despite only one vacancy.
Sources close to the judiciary revealed to The Shift that while only one sitting judge, Tonio Mallia, will be retiring this November, Abela wanted three new judges in his stead, ensuring his preferred candidate was selected by the Judicial Appointments Committee.
Abela has handed Simiana various appointments since taking office, including one connected to the tragic death of Miriam Pace and another on ethical breaches by MFSA officials Joseph Cuschieri and Edwina Licari.
Despite his relationship with Abela, colleagues describe him as an upright, reserved, diligent lawyer.
The other lawyer, Henri Mizzi, is the son of former Mintoff-era Attorney General Edgar Mizzi and is considered one of the best commercial lawyers on the island.