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  • Writer's pictureAndré Delicata

The attacks on the judiciary and the Rule of Law

Robert Abela and Joseph Muscat

Former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, once declared:

‘The legal system we have and the rule of law are far more responsible for our traditional liberties than any system of one man one vote. Any country or government which wants to proceed towards tyranny starts to undermine legal rights and undermine the law.’

The caustic, unprecedented, attacks on the judiciary by Prime Minister Robert Abela and by his predecessor - disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat - are troubling. Abela's statement that the public will pass judgement on the judiciary in the next election is perhaps even more worrying. It implies that Abela has ditched the Rule of Law in favour of Mob Rule. And it's rapidly gaining traction with Labourites.

It is dangerous for a politician (or ex-politician) to lash out at the judiciary for holding politicians and ex-politicians accountable for their actions by a legal system that, in a democracy where Rule of Law subsists, exists precisely to do that. Attacks like this, from the highest politicians in the land, undermine the Rule of Law and have dire consequences.

They also weaken public trust in the justice system. When confidence in the judiciary is lost, the public is hesitant to trust the courts to protect their rights and reluctant to accept court decisions. The Rule of Law and the administration of justice require the public's confidence in the judiciary.

Typically, in democratic backsliding countries, the integrity of legal systems is compromised by politicians in power, creating grave risks for the Rule of Law. Undermining the Rule of Law, and state capture have become populist leaders' main strategies. The judiciary is an easy target – judges and magistrates cannot speak in defence of themselves.

The attacks unleashed by Abela and Muscat on the judiciary undermine the constitutional principles governing the separation of powers and threaten Malta's Rule of Law and judicial independence. Judicial independence is being undermined by intimidating the judiciary.

Perhaps we do not appreciate how serious the attacks against the judiciary made by Abela and Muscat are. They threaten to rock the basic tenets of democracy - the Rule of Law -which is already severely compromised in Malta. It is up to us, each one of us, to hold the government to account when the government’s actions undermine the rule of law, democracy and human rights.

When the Rule of Law and the independence of judges are threatened, democracy and human rights are at stake. This is where we are heading if we don't stand up to this.


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