The Rule of Law Report 2021 published by the European Commission welcomed the reforms implemented by the Maltese Government to strengthen the independence of the justice system. The outcome of this report follows other positive feedback by European institutions in recent months.
In March 2021, the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) had also acknowledged Malta’s progress in corruption prevention in respect of members of parliament, judges and prosecutors, as adopted at its 87th Plenary Meeting held in Strasbourg. The new system of judicial appointments was welcomed by the Venice Commission.
Correspondingly, a report in Politico had described how the European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders hailed Malta’s best practice in Rule of Law and said “a real evolution of reforms” took place in Malta since the beginning of 2020, including the independence of judges and prosecutors, and the nomination processes for high offices. Reynders has also praised Malta for taking criticism by the European Commission on board and implementing the suggested changes over the past year.
The aim of the European Commission’s Rule of Law Report 2021 is to monitor the developments relating to Rule of Law in all EU member states.
The reforms carried out in Malta were implemented after takin into account recommendations put forward by the Council of Europe. Since January 2020, the Maltese government implemented substantial changes to further strengthen the rule of law in Malta and carried out significant reforms to strengthen democracy and the institutions that deliver it.
A real evolution of reforms took place in Malta since the beginning of 2020.
According to the EU Rule of Law Report 2021, the perception of judicial independence has “notably improved”. The report shows that the level of perceived judicial independence is now “high” with the reform of the procedure for dismissal of magistrates and judges also a key contributing factor.
The reforms concerning the appointment of the Police Commissioner and of the Commissioners of the Permanent Commission against Corruption, as well as the reorganised cooperation between the Executive Police and the Attorney General in his capacity as public prosecutor, are recent reforms which already started yielding positive results.
Measures were introduced to improve integrity in the Executive Police and, in September 2020, a Transformation Strategy for the years 2020-2025 was launched with the aim of strengthening anti-corruption measures. The Executive Police also implemented a policy regulating Business Interests and Additional Occupations, and the Police Act was amended in order to allow Police Officers to make anonymous reports on breach of integrity within the Executive Police.
Reforms proposed in 2020 regarding the appointment of persons exercising top executive functions in the public administration were also adopted.
The European Commission report also refers to the fact that the Ombudsperson responsible for the integrity of civil servants has expired, and the government remains committed to agreeing on a suitable replacement for this important role despite the Opposition being content with the status quo.
Moreover, the report underlines how investigative and prosecution bodies have improved their capacity to deal with cases related to corruption and that even further reforms have been carried out to enhance checks and balances, thus widening the judicial review on decisions that need to be taken, including those by the Attorney General.
Following the publication of the European Commission’s Rule of Law Report 2021, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that the Maltese government remains committed to contributing to the strengthening of rule of law within the EU and will continue engaging in ongoing cooperation to achieve this goal.