An exercise in backside covering

It’s been exactly a week since the Attorney General issued a totally inappropriate plea to the law courts.

I haven’t said anything before because I’ve already had a go at this particular department on at least two occasions recently (here and here ). So I was kinda hoping someone else would spot this for a change.

Someone else didn’t, so here goes.  Is our Attorney General for real?

His advice “not to put undue importance on minor errors” made me do a double take.

This advice came in the wake of two (potentially 3) very serious errors committed by prosecution. These errors led to the accused in each respective case either walking free or enjoying a much lighter sentence than deserved.

Is this how our prosecuting office justifies the booboos committed by the department? By blaming it on the judiciary for applying the law?

In other countries, heads would be rolling. In ours, we get those who are politically responsible for said errors shrugging them off and pooh-poohing our judges and magistrates for doing their job.

Let’s start with the obvious: is it appropriate for the attorney general to give the impression that he’s attempting to interfere with the administration of justice?

Fine, he isn’t *really* trying to put pressure/influence,  in fact he clarifies as much. But no matter how many times the caveat “it is not up to me to tell the courts what to do” is used, the impression created is one: that he is doing exactly that. Unfortunately, given the way the system works his good intentions are irrelevant – it is the public’s impression that counts.

Why is this wrong? Constitutionally, the attorney general is part of the executive, answerable to parliament. The judiciary is not.  Separation between executive and judiciary is a very basic tenet of our rule of law. It’s the only way we can be sure that our law courts are truly independent.

But there’s also another aspect to consider. The Attorney General “feels that unless an error is significant enough” it should not affect the outcome of the case. Oh, really? Whatever happened to that other maxim, that the law must be applied to the letter and not according to what the Attorney General – or any judge for that matter – “feels”.

Legislation is enacted for a reason. To avoid legal decisions being based on anyone’s “feelings”. Undoubtedly, there are times when we disagree with legislation. This doesn’t mean that we can ignore it and apply it only when it suits us.

In short, none of us are happy with anyone walking free after beating up a student. Or with a charge of rape being downgraded to indecent assault. However, the law is what it is and we must lump it. Even when this happens due to an administrative error that could have easily been avoided.



  1. Mario Schembri Wismayer says:

    A very erudite and well-written piece. And so very true…