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Venice Commission letter by government ‘superfluous’

Request to Council of Europe came after decision already taken

Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt

Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt

The government’s request to the Council of Europe for assistance came after its Venice Commission had already confirmed it would look into Malta’s structures at the request of the body’s Legal Affairs Committee.

In a statement on Saturday, the government announced that it had sent the request to the Commission, whose role is to provide legal advice to member states and to help states wishing to bring their legal and institutional structures into line with European standards.

The letter, however, came days after the Venice Commission had already confirmed to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) Legal Affairs Committee that it would look into the state of Malta’s structures following a request to do so last week during a committee hearing.

The committee asked for an opinion on Malta’s constitutional arrangements on the separation of powers and on the independence of the judiciary and law enforcement bodies.

While welcoming the government’s decision to also seek the opinion of the Venice Commission, Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt, the Council’s rapporteur monitoring the investigation into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the rule of law on the island, told the Times of Malta that the request came after confirmation of the probe had already been received.

He pointed out that while the move was a step in the right direction, he feared that there could also be an element of “spin” in the government’s request.

The Dutch MP told the Times of Malta that the PACE committee had already been discussing for weeks whether it should request an opinion from the Venice Commission.

“I welcome the fact that the government has decided to ask for this but in reality, the Venice Commission would have looked at Malta’s structures with or without the government’s request,” Mr Omtzigt said. He said that the letter sent by Justice Minister Owen Bonnici was therefore “superfluous”.

He added that it was not yet known whether the Commission would be conducting two separate investigations or combining the two requests to a provide a single opinion.

Calls for the advisory body were also made by the European Parliament’s Rule of Law Monitoring group to provide an opinion in light of criticism that the island’s law enforcement, investigation and prosecution set-ups were not up to par following a two-day mission in Malta last month.

In a letter to the government last week, Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld called on Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, who had met the delegation in Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s place, to consider seeking the opinion of the advisory body.

The delegation had made similar calls at the end of its visit.

claire.caruana@timesofmalta.com

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