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Judicial reform: needless luxury or dire necessity?

I refer to the interview with Mr Justice Giovanni Bonello (The Sunday Times, December 16) where Dr Bonello expressed his views in respect of judicial reform. I feel that I should point out that the present system of selecting judges has, in spite of everything, served the country well and, as Mr Justice Bonello reiterated, one should be very cautious before doing away with it with no suitable tested system in place.

The word ‘training’ does not simply mean keeping oneself updated with new legislation
- Joseph Bonello

On the other hand, the fact that two cases of proven corruption as well as another case of a judge being arrested for the same crime within a 10-year period, not to mention certain allegations publicly aired against some members of the judiciary which were practically ignored, is undoubtedly a cause for concern which warrants some type of action sooner rather than later.

In the vast majority of cases, judges were selected from among members of the legal profession, most of whom eventually distinguished themselves during their judicial careers despite the fact that they had actually received little or no training to enable them to fulfil a highly demanding job. Despite this, there seems to be a general consensus that this is hardly an ideal scenario.

The role of a judge is dependent not only on the level of legal knowledge of the person required to fulfil the role with a degree of competency, but also depends on the ability of that person to face situations which can be varied, which can provide challenges unique in themselves and which need not necessarily have any direct bearing on the level of legal knowledge of the person concerned. The question which needs answering here is how just is it to entrust a person to deal with such responsibilities with little or no training.

It is felt that the situation in respect of the judiciary in Malta warrants serious review, however this review cannot possibly be cut short at the recommendation stage.

Those recommendations cannot possibly refer only to the way the judiciary is appointed, but should also include a system where a constant review of the suitability of the person concerned to continue to fill the role of judge or magistrate during his tenure of office is constantly undertaken.

Training before a judge or magistrate is appointed is indispensable and the present system not only does a disservice to the person who would eventually be appointed as a judge or magistrate – who will have to face fulfilling a role for which he would have little or no training for – but also to the country at large.

In Europe, as well as in other parts of the world, one finds judicial training institutes which have as their terms of reference not only to train people to become judges but also to ensure that judges received adequate training throughout their careers as judges. In Malta there is the Judicial Training Committee that, to say the least, should have its terms of reference revisited in order to help it fulfil its role.

It is important to stress that in this context, the word ‘training’ does not simply mean keeping oneself updated with new legislation but also should mean that the judges keep themselves abreast of the constant changes in society and how these changes should affect the way they are to tackle their duties.

Perhaps more importantly it should also mean how to tackle situations which might potentially prove problematic.

It is very difficult if not impossible to predict what these situations may be, however they may range from the way a judge conducts himself during the court proceedings themselves to the way how a judge may perceive – at an early stage – situations which could potentially explode in the judge’s face.

The task at hand is not exactly the easiest task around, but it is felt that it is a task that has to be undertaken if Malta is to retain the faith that the people always had in its judiciary.

It is a task that requires the assistance and commitment from all the sectors concerned, not least the political sector. It is a task Malta cannot afford to ignore, for its own sake and for the sake of its democratic institutions.

Dr Bonello is a lecturer in the Department of Public Law at the University of Malta.

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