Government presses on with its judicial reform
The Government is pressing ahead with judicial reform and has put the issue on Parliament’s agenda, despite Labour’s opposition to giving a pay rise to judges and magistrates as part of the deal.
“This is a package deal and we cannot pick and choose,” Justice Minister Chris Said said, urging the Opposition to rethink its position.
The Association of the Judiciary and the Chamber of Advocates are both backing the Government in its bid to move ahead with the reform.
Parliament last week unanimously approved the first reading of the Judiciary Pensions Bill, which will translate the agreement reached with the judiciary into a legislative Act.
The proposed law increases the retirement age of sitting members by three years to 68. In return, judges and magistrates will be given a service pension, over and above the entitlement of a capped two-thirds pension, putting them at par with MPs.
Other aspects of the deal include the introduction of an appointment system for all sittings, court sessions in the afternoon, more accountability through changes to the Commission for the Administration of Justice.
Crucially, members of the Bench will receive a €12,000 increase in allowances over three years.
Mr Said said following consultations, the Government had decided to forge ahead with the agreement although Labour’s position was not helping.
“Despite the Opposition’s stand against the long-sought agreement with the judiciary, the Government feels that reform in the administration of justice is crucial. This is why we are determined to implement what we have agreed.
“This is a package deal and we cannot pick and choose. We hope that the Opposition rethinks its position and votes with us in Parliament over this important Bill which will contribute towards a better justice service,” he said.
Following weeks of silence over the reform, Labour’s justice spokesman José Herrera said its parliamentary group would not object to amending the Constitution to raise the retirement age of judges and magistrates.
However, it could not support any pay rises for members of the judiciary as the economic climate was not conducive to such an arrangement.
Labour’s position was lambasted by both the judiciary and the Chamber of Advocates.
“We have agreed on a package of reforms and Labour cannot choose what is good and what isn’t,” a senior judge told The Times.
This newspaper is informed that the Association of the Judiciary was expecting the Government to implement the agreement despite the Opposition’s stand. “Dr Herrera had clearly indicated to us that he was totally in agreement with the deal struck,” another judge said. “We cannot understand the latest change of heart and we hope that Labour is not politicising the justice system.”
The Chamber of Advocates too felt the Government should continue to implement what had been agreed.
“The Opposition is wrong in its argument about the increase in allowances – as being a judge is no ordinary job,” chamber president Reuben Balzan said.