Sunday, 22 August 2010

After All Has Been Said

The Malta Independent on Sunday   - 22 08 2010
What can be said about the late Guido Demarco that has not been said already`

Honour, tribute and homage have been poured upon his memory in doses which make it difficult to find anything new to say, if not personal experiences or weaknesses from which no human is spared but which are out of place in an obituary.

Guido always impressed me with his warmth whenever we met.   He was invariably happy to meet me and was always ready with unmerited eulogy on some piece I would have written.

He really had a knack for making whoever he met feel important.  One always parted him with a wish to meet again soon.

On assuming Presidency, which was roughly the same time I published a book on Malta’s future relations with the EU, we had exploratory discussions on possible ways how Labour could be less confrontational about EU membership and how his Presidency could become acceptable to Labour to enable him to operate as a unifying force in Maltese politics.

Regretfully no progress was registered on both issues but surely not for lack of trying from Guido Demarco’s side.

What can be said about the divorce issue that has not already been said?

The Curia’s Pro-Vicar Fr Anton Gouder did find something new when he stated categorically that voting for divorce would be a sin without entering into the merits of whether he was referring to a referendum vote, a parliamentary vote or to both.

He also expressed marvel that surveys show that 15% are still undecided about such an important issue and disappointed that 40% have expressed themselves in favour.

Fr Gouder can pontificate as much as he wants about divorce but as someone responsible for where the Church is going he should well ask what relevance the church will have in our daily lives a few years down the road if even today 55% are not outrightly against divorce; if a larger percentage in the under 55 years category are prepared to consider divorce positively if legislation carries safeguards to ensure that it is only accessible to those for whom marriage has broken down irretrievably, with due precautions to safeguard the children’s rights.

There is one thing Fr Gouder and I probably agree upon for different reasons.

We probably both agree that divorce should not be decided through a referendum.

Fr Gouder ought to be against a referendum to avoid having wholesale commission of mortal sins on the scale of the sixties.   Personally I am against a referendum because I consider divorce to be a right of the individual and such rights should not be agreed to or denied based on the will of the majority.

If we do a referendum about divorce we can just as well do a referendum on whether we should continue to pay unemployment benefits or social assistance.

If our political class cannot take responsibility for doing what 40% of us demand without any imposition on the remaining 60% than let the divorce issue mature on its own steam without a referendum which would give us the worst of both worlds; a large segment of the population committing mortal sin without resolving anything, simply postponing the problem to the next generation who will one day laugh disdainfully at our narrow mindedness.

And if the Fr Gouders of this world are screaming that divorce desired by the 40% would be imposed on the remaining 60% as they would be living in a divorce-minded society, even though personally they would not be obliged to make use of divorce facilities, I wonder what difference this would make to the 60% who are already living in a separation-minded society with a jungle law for unwedded family units.

On the contrary there is a lot to say about the proposal to raise retirement age for Judges from the present level of 65 years.

The suggestion made by retiring Mr Justice Carmel Agius is not without merits but also has negative connotations that cannot be ignored.

It is true that in many countries Judges retire at a more advanced stage and in the US, supreme court justices, court of appeals judges, and district court judges are appointed for a life term or until they voluntarily resign.

Such open ended appointments are risky in a local context.   Judiciary is the third branch of government.
Unlike the first two branches (the legislative and the executive) the Judiciary is not subject to constitutionally demanded periodic validation through democratic elections.

Without age limits the Judiciary will have an unchecked mandate which defies the essence of democracy.

One could argue in favour of a higher retirement age, but only if such a measure is accompanied by limits of minimum age to qualify for appointment.  To my mind ten years is the ideal time a person should spend in such important positions, be he a Prime Minister or a Chief Justice.

If a person does a good job for ten years in such position of high responsibility he ought to be exhausted and looking forward to retirement to let new blood creep in.  Beyond ten years in the same position , human nature being what it is, the decision making process of a rational person tends to become irrational, from objective its shifts to subjective, and from analytical it morphs into assertive.

Retirement age for Judges is the only control we have to ensure members of the judiciary do not grow too comfortable in such position of high responsibility.

If longevity means that Judges can continue performing effectively till age 70, them a 10 year maximum term ought to be imposed.

Retirement at 70 would be the maximum for a Judge appointed to the bench at age 60.

And the method for appointment of the judiciary has to be more challenging than the present system of a simple unilateral decision by the Executive.   Some parliamentary screening will surely add value and transparency to the appointment process.

Retirement does not mean all valuable experience will be lost.  Legal research and publications need not stop with retirement.   And there are other positions which retired judges could be considered for, like a former Chief Justice is doing as an Ombudsman.

There is yet much to say about this.

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