Victoria Buttigieg has security of tenure protected by the Constitution. This means that except for very exceptional reasons and on the back of cross-party Parliamentary consensus, no one can ever fire her. This is meant to ensure she acts independently of pressures from people who would otherwise be able to threaten her income or her employment. Her security of tenure is there to protect the course of justice from the intrusion of power.
None of this means she’s not accountable or there are no circumstances in which her position may become untenable. It only means the Constitution trusts her to know when it’s time to make the call and walk away, to recognise that her occupation of a key Constitutional role is no longer of any advantage to justice or the republic broadly speaking.
Her decision on a plea bargain with it-Topo has been examined and there’s little point repeating all of that here. The only thing to add is that she still has not bothered to explain her decision, she has made no attempt to justify it, or even, if she feels any, of expressing regret that things did not quite turn out as she might have hoped. She just went on as if we don’t exist.
She might be comparing her silence with the circumspection of judges that never share their deliberations, must behave as if they have no regrets, and put up no defence when they are faced with criticism.
This is different. Judges do get to motivate their decisions, they do get to comment, justify, and document at least those elements of their deliberations that they determine to be relevant to the decisions that they take. It’s all written down in their judgements. Granted that’s rarely the last word on the subject in and out of court. Their decisions are attacked and reviewed in appeals, and they are questioned and criticised in the media. And they never get to elaborate on their thinking or to defend it beyond what they’ve already written.
But at least we get an idea of what they were thinking when they decided and why they decided the way they did. Agree. Disagree. That’s up to you.
The Attorney General is different. No reasons are given for her decisions. For all we know her effectively judicial decisions of who to prosecute and who not to prosecute, what direction she gives the police and law enforcement agencies, what evidence she deems worth presenting in court and what she chooses to discard are the product of her entirely arbitrary whims.
One would hope that’s not the case, but you wouldn’t know it from anything she says.
Nor do we know what she’s thinking after the Malta Police Union yesterday called for her resignation over her decision to drop attempted murder charges against a serial criminal who shot at police officers for daring to interrupt him while robbing a bank. They took months to come to the decision of calling for her resignation over this. They waited to see whether her gamble would work and somehow her decision to allow a criminal to avoid any consequence for shooting at police officers could at some point return some benefit for justice somewhere, such as helping them nab bigger fish.
Instead, all justice got was Vincent Muscat a small-time crook they had in the bag anyway.
Victoria Buttigieg can, if she is callous enough, ignore the unhappiness of crime victims over her performance. She can ignore the unhappiness of the work colleagues of crime victims or even the unhappiness of their union.
But can she ignore the unhappiness of one of the unions of police officers, the state agents that she depends on entirely to do her job? The justice system in Malta is dysfunctional to the core. And yet it’s still some sort of a record, even for us, that a chunk of the labour force of one branch of law enforcement openly declares it has no confidence in the head of another.
I’m not sure there’s any confidence in our law enforcement infrastructure left for the public to lose. If there is, does Victoria Buttigieg seriously think it can survive an open declaration by her most important allies that they do not trust her and want her out?
Does Victoria Buttigieg care about the public’s confidence in our law enforcement and prosecution services? She should. Her security of tenure does not relieve her of her Constitutional obligation to retain or regain the public’s confidence in the institutions of the republic, both the one she runs and the ones she must work with.
Independently of whether she still thinks she was right to unload from it-Topo’s back the responsibility and the consequences of having shot at police officers, surely, she needs to realise that now that one of two police unions have said she must leave because they feel betrayed by her, means – whatever she feels about it – that her position is entirely untenable.