A constitutional amendment to regulate administrative penalties of a financial nature and to reduce the discrepancy between the right to a fair trial, failed to garner the required two-thirds majority in Parliament on Wednesday after the Opposition voted against.
Thirty-four government MPs voted in favour of the motion, while 25 Opposition MPs voted against. 45 votes were needed for the Bill to be approved.
The Bill was tabled by Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis.
The Bill included the reform that whenever someone is charged with a criminal offence, they would be offered a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law.
The Opposition argued that independent courts and tribunals should be the only institutions that handed out penalties related to this matter. These should not be done by authorities appointed by the government.
Shadow Minister for Justice Joe Ellis said the amendment presented by the government “is cosmetic and does not go far enough.” He argued that it would be better that penalties are decided by an independent court or tribunal from the start.
He insisted that the concept of penalties being imposed by an independent and impartial tribunal or court is as relevant today as it was 60 years ago, if not more.
Ellis also highlighted that the changes proposed by the government undermined the principle of due process on fines that in some instances could reach millions of euros.
“The Opposition does not want to weaken the fight against abusive practices but believes that there are other ways of doing so,” Ellis said.
He therefore concluded that the Opposition could not back the Bill moved by Justice Minister Zammit Lewis and insisted that “a real dialogue with the opposition should take place.”
Reacting, Zammit Lewis said that the Opposition’s lack of support will lead this country to lose an opportunity for the authorites to be strengthened. He expressed his hope that now no one would complain that the entities are not working.
“This amendment is far from cosmetic as it will move the country forward”, he said, whilst stressing that Malta was introducing something that can already be found in other EU Member states.