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MALTATODAY 8 January 2023

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3 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 8 JANUARY 2023 NEWS 2090 8600 COLLECTION OF DOMESTIC WASTE MATTHEW VELLA FINALLY, in November 2020, the Maltese parliament unan- imously voted in favour of ex- tending the retirement age of judges and magistrates to 68. But earlier that year, the gov- ernment had requested a favour from the Opposition: hold out on raising the pensionable age, until after Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi ships out on retire- ment at 65 in April 2020. The bill was allowed to be dealt with after the summer recess. The sluggish president of the Appeals Court – Labour propo- nents had told their Nationalist counterparts – was deemed too slow on his management of the court caseload. In 2018 – the year of his ap- pointment – decisions on ap- peals cases fell by 50% from 423 to just 235. The year after, decisions returned to their pre- vious normal, 414, but fell again in 2020 to 388 – and this dur- ing the COVID year, when the amount of new appeals filed in the courts had fallen to a histor- ic, 10-year low of 285. Clearly, there was a problem, acknowledged by none other than the justice minister at the time, Edward Zammit Lewis, who had told the House that keeping judges up until 68 will ensure no loss of specialisa- tion "particularly in the Con- stitutional Court, as well as in the Court of Appeal (Superior court), where there is a large number of pending cases." That was a nod to Azzopardi. Yet now, the same Labour ad- ministration thinks the retired Chief Justice would be a good Standards Commissioner. The PN are having none of it, and senior MPs know why: because Azzopardi, 67, will not deliver the same intensity brought to the job by the first standards czar, George Hyzler – only a year younger than Az- zopardi – now a member of the European Court of Auditors. Hyzler's unanimous appoint- ment as first scrutineer of min- isters and MPs in 2018 gave a strong personality to the new office: he made judicious use of his power even when it embar- rassed the government of the day by investigating scandals such as Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar's unofficial, property brokerage for friend and mag- nate Yorgen Fenech; or Gozo minister Justyne Caruana's €15,000 'job' for her domestic partner. The PN thinks Robert Abe- la's choice of Joseph Azzopar- di is intended at blunting the edge Hyzler brought to the job, and that with a damp squib in charge, the former judge might give Labour some reprieve on any future peccadilloes. If Azz- opardi was not fit to be kept on as Chief Justice till 68, why have him judge the sins of people in public office? Abela has refused the PN's first choice for the job, retired judge Joseph Zammit McKeon, instead proposing him for Om- budsman. The PN accepted, but not as some swap deal to have Azzopardi made stand- ards commissioner. Opposi- tion leader Bernard Grech has now officially proposed three other candidates: former La- bour Speaker Myriam Spiteri Debono, former judge Silvio Meli or former Air Malta CEO Philip Micallef. Abela is in no mood for mag- namity to seek unanimity on the role, having tabled an an- ti-deadlock amendment bill to enforce the government's choice with a simple majority once two rounds of voting in the House will not deliver the necessary two-thirds for Azzo- pardi's appointment. When it does happen, Azzo- pardi will find himself elevated to a position lacking not just the Opposition's confidence, but perhaps a good part of the na- tion's. Why Labour knows it has a lame duck lined up for standards czar Former chief justice was left to retire right before House struck deal on raising judges' retirement to 68 Judge Joseph Azzopardi EDITORIAL Deadlocked by political bickering MT2

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