An overview of the Constitution of Malta granted by an Act of the British Parliament on the Maltese Independence Day, the 21st September 1964. Malta was previously a colony of Great Britain.
The Constitution is a legal and political document which constitutes the most basic & highest laws of a country. It is a political document because it states the choices and the basis which the state has made (for example whether it has a monarchy or a presidential style of government; whether political parties are allowed). Therefore, the constitution embodies the fundamental rules of a state. It is a legal document because it embodies these choices in legal form and content. Typically, a constitution would state whether you have a Presidential style (France, USA), Parliamentary (Malta, UK) or no opposition (dictatorship).
Malta’s constitution owes its origin to an act of the British Parliament in 1964, called the Malta Independence Act which transferred powers to Malta as a new independent state on Independence on the 21st September. There was this legal and historical link between the colonial power and the independent territory. The last act of the colonial power was the granting of Independence. Our present constitution is the original document as it evolved and changed over the years, but there is historical continuity with that original document. The model is known as the Westminster model, meaning that it is based on the model of Prime Minister and a Cabinet government.
The first chapter of the Constitution refers to the basic principles which define territory, language, official languages, national anthem, religion, and a rule which states that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, meaning that ordinary laws and legislation have to be defined within the powers granted by the Constitution and that if any law runs counter to, or is inconsistent with, the Constitution, the Constitution will prevail (have effect over the law).
Chapter Two is the declaration of state principles which may however not be enforced by any court.
Chapter Three refers to the criteria of acquisition of citizenship and also grants the possibility of dual citizenship. Citizenship is the legal and political bond between a person and a legal system, and this chapter speaks how to acquire or lose Maltese citizenship.
Chapter Four refers to fundamental rights and freedoms.
Chapter Five refers to the President of the Republic who is the Head of State. The powers and duties of the President are laid down in the Constitution and generally a President is appointed by the Parliament by a simple majority for a period of 5 years.
The Constitution refers to the traditional model of the State made of the 3 organs:
- Legislative (Parliament)
- Executive (Government)
- Judiciary (Law Courts)
Chapter Six speaks about Parliament. There are rules referring to who is entitled to vote (the qualification of voters). The Constitution also establishes who may be elected to the House of Parliament and who is disqualified. The chapter establishes Parliament as mandatory and establishes that there is only one House (one House of Representatives unlike many other countries).
The voting system is known as the Proportional Representative system (districts electing representatives, transferring of votes from elected candidates to non-elected candidates). The composition of Parliament is regulated. The Office of the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition are provided for in the Constitution. The life of Parliament and dissolution (after 5 years) are provided for.
The Electoral Commission is established by the Constitution. Among its duties are:
- Monitoring and establishing electoral boundaries to reflect demographic situations.
- Organising and causing general elections, local council elections and overseeing European Parliament elections.
The establishment of local councils and the office for the investigation of administrative complaints (also known as the Ombudsman) are regulated by the Constitution.
Parliament is empowered to make laws and legislate. The legislative authority of Parliament derives from the Constitution, meaning also that the Constitution defines and limits the powers of Parliament. For example, Parliament may not legislate against fundamental human rights. There is a procedure how, what are known as ordinary laws, are enacted and also a procedure how the Constitution may be amended.
Chapter Seven deals with Executive authority which is technically invested in the President but it is effectively exercised by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet of Ministers. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President on the basis of his/her enjoying the support of the majority of members in the House of Representatives. Cabinet members are appointed by the President on the advice/recommendation of the Prime Minister. There is the doctrine of Collective Cabinet Responsibility for policies and political decisions, meaning that if a Minister disagrees with a policy and wants to criticise/disassociate himself from a policy, the practise is for such minister to resign.
Chapter Eight looks at the Judiciary. The courts are a mandatory organ of the Institution of Government. The Constitution establishes and provides for the appointment of judges and magistrates, the conditions of their term of office and the rule that the courts are independent and impartial (they don’t form part of any other institution and their independence is ensured since, except in cases of proved misbehaviour, they may not be dismissed from office). The Constitution establishes the Constitutional Courts which decide on all Constitutional questions.
Chapter Nine is about public finances. The constitution establishes what is known as the consolidated fund which is a general public account, grants the authority to government to raise and collect taxes on the basis of a law (Budget) and also the mechanism of review and audit of public spending through the office of the Auditor General.
Chapter Ten deals with the public service, which is regulated by the Public Service Commission. It provides for the engagement and recruiting of members of the public service, their conditions of employment and termination of their duties.
Chapter Eleven is Miscellaneous, comprising other aspects not dealt with by the other chapters. A Commission established by the Constitution in this chapter is the Broadcasting Authority. It supervises and regulates audiovisual media which attempts to establish a level playing field between the various media and in the case of public broadcasting is responsible to ensure fair apportionment of air-time between various representatives of different views. Other items dealt with in this chapter are actions on validity of laws, prohibitions of certain associations, the Employment Commission, resignations, and reappointments.
The Constitution of Malta can be downloaded at: http://www.justiceservices.gov.mt/DownloadDocument.aspx?app=lom&itemid=8566&l=1