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Government, Politics and Legal Systems for Expats in Malta

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: November 2013

Government and Politics

Since 1974, Malta has been a democratic republic within the Commonwealth, with a president as head of state. The president is appointed for a five-year term as a result of a special parliamentary vote. He or she has the power to proclaim new laws, receive foreign dignitaries, and dissolve parliament on the prime minister’s request. The president also has the duty to ensure the constitution is upheld, though the role is mostly ceremonial. The current president is George Abela.

The most powerful person in Malta is the prime minister, currently Joseph Muscat. The prime minister is the head of government, and recommends to the president the appointment of government ministers, judges, magistrates and leaders of other constitutional bodies. He or she also appoints permanent secretaries and is leader of the Cabinet, with whose members he or she formulates executive policy.

The Maltese legislative, the parliament, is unicameral and based on the British model. It consists of the House of Representatives (Maltese: Kamra tad-Deputati, literally ‘Chamber of Deputies’). The House consists of a minimum of 65 directly elected members; five of these are selected from each of the 13 electoral divisions. Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected for five-year terms by means of proportional representation using the single transferable vote system. The exact date of the election is chosen by the prime minister, as in the UK.

The two main parties are the Labour Party (centre-left) and the Nationalist Party (centre-right). Typically the vote is split almost evenly between these parties. As these parties gained more than 98% of the vote in the last parliamentary election, Malta effectively has a two-party electoral system, though it also has a history of co-operation between the two parties.

Whenever a party gains more than 50% of the votes in a general election, it is granted a majority of the seats in parliament. Maltese elections are remarkable for having the highest turnout for any country in which voting is not compulsory. In the last election in April 2013, 93% of the electorate voted – the lowest turnout in a Maltese election since 1971.

Legal Systems

The Maltese legal system is at heart a civil law system, based on the Napoleonic Code. However, Malta was a British colony for a century and a half. This has resulted in Maltese law also having some characteristics of English common law.

The Maltese Constitution guarantees the rights of Maltese citizens and provides for the separation of executive, legislative and judicial branches. Any law that is found to be at variance with the constitution will be declared null and void.

The leader of the judicial system is the chief justice, currently Silvio Camilleri. The appointment and role of the chief justice is mostly determined by the constitution.

The court system is two-tier, consisting of Superior Courts, presided over by judges (headed by the chief justice), and Inferior Courts, attended by magistrates. The constitution guarantees the judiciary independence of action; its members may not be removed without good reason such as infirmity or a major indiscretion. The language used in the courts in Maltese.

 

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