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MALTATODAY 8 January 2023

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maltatoday | SUNDAY • 8 JANUARY 2023 OPINION 11 spread consensus, that Malta's first-ever Standards Commis- sioner – George Hyzler – actu- ally did a pretty good job of it, on the whole. At the same time, however: I find it slightly harder to believe that he did such an overwhelm- ingly brilliant job of it… that he simply cannot be replaced, AT ALL. Leaving aside the old dictum that 'nobody is irreplaceable' (sorry, George, that counts for you, too)… it beggars belief, really, that four whole months should have elapsed, since the incumbent's retirement last September: without govern- ment and opposition actually agreeing on even a single can- didate to take his place. And the anomaly only deep- ens, when you consider the identity of the man nominat- ed Abela to replace George Hyzler: former Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi… who had been appointed a judge by Eddie Fenech Adami in 2003; then elevated to Chief Justice by Joseph Muscat in 2018. Interestingly enough, Azzo- pardi's Wikipedia entry notes that "he was considered an un- controversial choice" on that second occasion (and even more so, on the first). And yet, four years later… suddenly, the same Nationalist Party that had originally appointed Joseph Azzopardi to the judiciary, now considers him so utterly 'unac- ceptable', that it is willing to precipitate an entire political crisis over his appointment to the Standards Commission. Hmmm. Why, I wonder? What are the 'reasons' for an official objection that has now dragged on for four whole months? It's hard to say, to be honest. Unlike Amos Forge, Bernard Grech has so far stopped short of explaining exactly what his party finds so objectionable about Joseph Azzopardi, to be- gin with. As such, we have no option but to guess, really. It could, perhaps, be because – as the Times reminded us, back in 2018 – Azzopardi had once "unsuccessfully contested a single general election as a La- bour candidate". But then, that objection could surely have been raised against George Hyzler himself: who had suc- cessfully contested numerous elections with the PN; and had even served as Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry for Economic Services (1999 – 2003). And besides: even the Times – in 2018 – had described Az- zopardi as "an uncontroversial character […] considered by many in the legal profession to be a very honest and affable man, who has served the court with EFFICIENCY [my empha- sis] and rectitude…" Meanwhile, in case you're wondering why I emphasised 'efficiency' in that quote… it's because so far, the only (unof- ficial) 'reason' we've been giv- en is to be found the following snippet from another Times article, published last Novem- ber: "Sources close to the Nation- alist Party said its main objec- tion to Azzopardi's appoint- ment was his 'efficiency levels'. They said that when he was chief justice, presiding over the appeals court, the backlog of appeals had risen to extremely high levels…" And OK, fair enough: it is certainly true that the backlog of appeals has grown expo- nentially, in recent years; and I can fully understand how this might impact one's assessment of the former Chief Justice, for the role of Standards Commis- sioner. Then again, however: shouldn't we also be asking ourselves exactly WHY the backlog of cases has grown so much? Could it really be be- cause this one man – who had a reputation for 'efficiency', throughout all the long years he served as a judge – suddenly changed his habits, upon be- ing appointed Chief Justice… and instantly transformed in- to a lazy, good-for-nothing, couch-potato? Or could it have something to do with all the other reasons given by the judiciary itself, to account for the same situ- ation? I.e., that the number of court cases has skyrocketed, in recent years – unsurprisingly, given that Malta's population has practically doubled, since the 1980s – and that the cor- responding number of court employees (including not just judges and magistrates: but registrars; deputy registrars; court clerks; court marshals; court messengers; judicial as- sistants, etc., etc.) has remained woefully insufficient, to handle the sheer overload of new cas- es being filed every day… a fair percentage of which, natural- ly, will go on to reach appeals stage? As I recall, in August 2021 Mr Justice Francesco Depasquale – president of the 'Association of Judges & Magistrates of Malta', no less – had even supplied an entire list of such shortcom- ings within the court system: leading him to conclude that: 'yes, the situation is critical'… Clearly, then, we are looking at a crisis which cannot realis- tically be put down to the mere 'inefficiency' of one man, and one man alone… But oh, how silly of me! I al- most forgot that the real 'rea- sons' for all these objections are actually quite irrelevant, at the end of the day. What really matters is the objection itself… NOT the actual reasons for ob- jecting. After all: those can always be 'found'… I'm the first to agree with the widespread consensus, that Malta's first- ever Standards Commissioner – George Hyzler – actually did a pretty good job of it, on the whole

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