Members of the Association of Judges and Magistrates are up in arms over the government’s decision to agree to implement a number of measures recommended by the Venice Commission.

The association does not officially speak for all the judiciary but only represents those judges and magistrates that have signed up to join it. It is headed by Judges Toni Abela and Joanne Vella Cuschieri, both key Labour Party appointees to the bench.

Judges appear to be particularly incensed that the government has agreed to remove the role of parliament when judges or magistrates need to be removed for gross misbehaviour.

The existing system of removing a judge in very serious cases of wrongdoing is for parliament to vote on an impeachment motion after the Commission for the Administration of Justice has decided to ask parliament to have the judge removed. An impeachment motion requires cross-party consensus as a judge or magistrate can only be removed if two-thirds of the house agrees.

In the past this has meant that in spite of decisions by the Commission that a judge should be removed, no one has ever been impeached as the Labour Party in parliament has always protected them.

In 2014, the government prevented an impeachment motion to remove Judge Lino Farrugia Sacco from even being discussed in the chamber until the motion became moot when Judge Farrugia Sacco retired because of his age. He was subsequently appointed to an executive role in the government which he still works in.

In 2002, the Labour Party blocked the impeachment of Judge Anton Depasquale who stopped working on a point of principle for 7 fully-paid years until the principle fizzled away the day the Labour Party defended him in parliament.

The Venice Commission argued that judicial independence required the exclusion of parliament from deciding whether a judge should be removed or not. The Commission for the Administration of Justice has a strong contingent chosen from within the judiciary and, with the proposed reforms, any decision it may take to remove a judge can be reviewed by the Constitutional Court.

The Venice Commission and NGO Repubblika argued that parliament should therefore have no role in decisions that could prejudice judicial independence. With parliament’s power to decide whether to protect judges from impeachment, judges and magistrates in office could be tempted to stay close to politicians they may need to save them if they’re ever submitted to disciplinary proceedings.

It seems that members of the Association of Judges and Magistrates are less keen on judicial independence than the Venice Commission or Repubblika and have been insisting that the parliamentary Labour Party retains the veto if even the Constitutional Court agrees any one of them should be removed for impeachable offences.

Another dispute between the association and the government appears to be a request made by magistrates that only they should be considered for appointment as judges. Magistrates also made a backup proposal to be given preference over other candidates if vacancies for judgeships arise. The Venice Commission has insisted for a public call every time a vacancy in the judiciary arises and for the judicial appointments committee to nominate the best candidates directly to the president.

But some magistrates want to be the only ones to be considered for these posts, excluding any other possible candidate. The government has not taken up this request by magistrates and has agreed to the Venice Commission’s recommendations for open competition.

The Association of Judges and Magistrates is due to have more meetings with Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis but may be considering actions on behalf of its members.