In the dawn of the 19th century, the Maltese freely and voluntarily determined to place their Islands under the protection of Great Britain and to recognise the King of that country as their sovereign.
The vicissitudes of the constitutional development of Malta from that time onwards are remarkable. Few other British possessions, if any, had such ups and downs in their constitutional history. “It would be almost impossible”, wrote the Royal Commissioners of 1931, “to plot a graph of the constitutional history of Malta during the last hundred years showing the rise and fall of constitutions, modelled alternatively on the principle of benevolent autocracy and that of representative government”.
During the peace of Paris, Britain acquired Malta “in full right and sovereignty”. In 1811, a petition was signed by the nobility of Malta which was sent to the King. They asked for a Consiglio Popolare, independent tribunals, freedom of the press, trial by jury and a constitution. Marquis Testaferrata went to London to plead their case but was refused permission to appear before His Majesty. In 1812, a Royal Commission was sent to Malta to inquire on local justice, revenues, commerce and the establishment of the Consiglio Popolare.
In their report, they wrote that the claims for a Representative Assembly “are totally without foundations and that at no period of their history did the Maltese ever possess the slightest pretension or right to a deliberate and legislative Assembly”.
Sir Thomas Maitland was appointed Governor in 1813 and he was free to form, if he wished, a nominated Council which would be purely advisory. However, the Council was never formed. The Congress of Vienna of 1815 subsequently placed Malta definitely under the British Crown.
In 1835, two petitions were forwarded to Governor Ponsomby, one signed by Camillo Sceberras, Giorgio Mitrovich and 505 others whilst the other had 135 signatories. The Sceberras petition and the other petition both insisted, amongst other things, on the formation of a National Council, but they differed on the qualitative and quantitative nature of such a council.
On April 1st 1835, William IV issued instructions for a Constitution for Malta. It was decided to set up a non-elective 7-member council to advise and assist the administration. Four members were to be selected ex-officio, namely the Chief Justice, the Bishop of Malta, the Chief Secretary to the Government and the Senior Officer in command of the Land Forces.
The other three were unofficial, chosen by the Governor for Maltese landed proprietors, merchants and British-born principle merchants. However, the Bishop objected to the wording of the oath of office each member had to take and would not sit in the Council before the Vatican gave him instructions. He was instructed to resign from a prevalently Protestant council. On 1st May 1835, the creation of a Council of Government was notified to help and advise the Governor. Sceberras was not satisfied with this council and so Mitrovich went to London. There, he published several pamphlets and it was due to these pamphlets, that it was decided that a Commission should be sent to Malta to investigate matters. The Commissioners started their inquiry into press liberty. They also tackled problems of duties on imports, poverty, unemployment and education. However, they were proceeding too slowly.
Between 1839 and 1848, following the concession of a free press, many Italian liberals sought refuge in Malta, a good number of whom took up a journalistic profession. Their publications helped propagate many new ideas on topics such as freedom and education. At times, their writings greatly annoyed the Government in their own homeland with result that the British interests were prejudiced. In 1841, Sceberras tried, with little success, to form another Comitato di Petizione. He kept frequent correspondence with Sir James Stoddart, who was following the course of the Maltese petitions in the British Parliament. In 1845, a petition was forwarded, asking for a legislative council. The Carnival riots of 1846, a result of the Governor’s decision to ban merry-making on Sunday, brought several problems to the open.
In 1847, Richard More O’Ferrall, an Irish, was nominated as Civil Governor. The Maltese had long demanded a civil, instead of a military administrator, a decision which had been opposed by the Duke of Wellington for strategic reasons. The Maltese were also very pleased that at last they had a Catholic Governor. The Governor was quite sensitive to the Maltese aspirations and all through 1848, had sent various dispatches to the Secretary of State on constitutional reforms. In 1849, a partly elected council was created. The council was to consist of 18 persons. The Governor was to be a member of this council and 9 people were to be chosen by London. The other 8 members were to be elected by the Maltese in an election.
In 1849, there were elections for the first time.
In 1864, Dr. Sciortino, Pullicino, Mifsud and Torregiani clamoured in favour of a reform, giving the elected members some effective control in domestic matters, especially in the supply of public money. So in 1864, Secretary of State Cardwell, while approving of Governor Le Marchant’s administration, expressed the desire that great consideration should be shown to the opinion of the elected members in matters of local and domestic interest and that, above all, no money bill should be pressed against the majority of the elected members except under very special circumstances in which the public interests or credit were seriously at stake and never without an immediate report to the Secretary of State.” Amongst the plans of the Governor which was opposed was a loan to complete part of the drainage system. The need for such a sanitation project was “demonstrated” when in 1873 the death rate in the island reached 47.7 per thousand. The Council denied the need for a drainage system and so voted no money. So Lord Carnarvon changed the Cardwell Principle by saying that in matters of public health, the Governor could do whatever he pleased.
Mr. Francis Rowsell held an official enquiry into the fiscal state and civil establishments of Malta. The Secretary of State acting on Rowsell’s report, reduced the wheat duty and planned new taxes such as on beer and wine. The publication of Rowsell’s report caused a huge outcry. A demonstration was held in Valletta during which placards were carried against Rowsell and Sigismondo Savona, Rowsell’s most prominent Maltese supporter.
Two very important enquiries were made by Penrose Julyan and P.J. Keenan. Apart from other topics, Julyan strongly advocated that English should be the official language of Malta and it should be the only language of the Council of Government, in the Law Courts, he proposed a gradual change to English. In his report, Keenan proposed pupils in the elementary schools should be taught two foreign languages. The language of the schools would be English taught through Maltese, whilst Italian could be taught as an optional language in the third and fourth classes. Keenan proposed that in the Lyceum, all teaching should be imparted in English, whilst Italian would remain an extra optional subject.
In 1880, Savona was nominated Director of Education. That same year, the Partito Anti-Riformista was constituted and Fortunato Mizzi became its leader. The party fought against the Anglicisation of Malta to retain the Italianita` of the island. In 1879, the Reform party was founded because people like Savona saw Italian as a hazard to education.
Fortunato Mizzi and Gerald Strickland proposed very comprehensive constitutional changes.. In the elections that followed, the Reform party led by Savona, who had resigned his post as Director of Education, was defeated. Finally in December 1887, a new Constitution was granted to Malta. This was much more progressive and liberal than the previous constitutions.
There was to be a new council of 20 members. Fourteen of these were to be elected therefore the elected members were in a majority. Where money was involved, the elected members had the power to give a final decision. The governor was to have no original or casting vote in money bills. No original vote meant that the Governor could not vote like the other members. No casting vote meant that if there was equality of votes, the Governor could not decide upon the question himself. In case of equality of votes of the elected members, always in bills involving money, the result was to be negative. The powers of the Council, however, were also under certain control. For example, only the Governor could introduce money bills.
In case of necessity, the Governor also had power of veto. This meant that he could nullify any law passed by the Council. This meant that ultimately, the powers of the Governor remained very great as it had been before 1887.
Moreover, the Governor continued to control the Executive Council and he could go against the advice of the members.
The Constitution of 1835
From 1814 to 1835, Malta was rules by the Governor and the Maltese had no representatives at all. It was only in 1835 that the British Government decided that Malta was to have a council of 7 members to help and advice the Governor in administration of the island. The Maltese were not satisfied with such a council because a) the Maltese members were in a minority, b) the members of the council were not elected by the Maltese but were either nominated of official members, c) the council did not have any real powers, its duty was merely to advise the Governor.
The Royal Commission of 1836
In July 1832, Ponsonby transmitted two Maltese petitions to the Colonial Office. One of them was drawn up by Camillo Sceberras and signed by 506 petitioners. It demanded:
1. The promulgation of a regular Code of Laws.
2. Reform of the Judiciary.
3. A more equal distribution and decrease of taxation.
4. Reduction of the high salaries paid to British officials.
5. Some encouragement to public education, commerce, mercantile shipping and agriculture.
6. The grant of a Native Council ‘of competent number’ elected by members of the professions, merchants and proprietors, and invested with the power of indicating necessary legislative measures.
England’s answer was the publication on 1st May 1835 of those Instructions which established a nominated council of 7 members to assist the Governor.
Sceberras complained that the grievances contained in the petitions of 1832 were in no way remedied, but had rather been increased. Sceberras recommended the petitions yet again to the attention of the new Secretary of State, Lord Glenelg. This letter from Sceberras to Glenelg was delivered in London by Giorgio Mitrovich. Mitrovich was able to convince others of the justice of the cause of the Maltese liberals. He contacted several influential men who promised their support.
Yet it was by his pamphlets, ‘The Claims of Maltese founded upon the principles of Justice’ (London, July 1835) and ‘Indirizzo ai Maltesi da parte del loro amico’ (London, November 1835), that Mitrovich won his first and immediate success. In them, he developed the historical basis for the re-granting of a Consiglio Popolare to Malta. According to his theory, a Consiglio Nazionale had been established in 1090 by Count Roger, “and which was composed of the representatives of the clergy, the nobles and the people. It had even legislative powers.”
On 7th June 1836, a petition was presented to the House of Commons with 2359 signatures.
1. Emphasis was laid on the absence of any free means of representing the needs of the people, either in a press or by municipal bodies.
2. The lack of education.
3. The reassertion of the claim for a Consiglio Popolare was relegated to the last point and was used to prove that the Maltese had the right to elect their representatives.
The petition gave the final drive to the plan to send a Royal Commission to the island. This was composed of John Austin (Professor of Jurisprudence at London University) and George Lewis. Lewis had served on the Commission of 1833 in Ireland which inquired into the conditions of the poorer classes in Ireland, and on that of 1843 which inquired into the state of religious and other instruction, again in Ireland.
The appointment of Commissioners to inquire into the Civil Administration of Malta triggered the undertaking of a plan which had long been maturing in the mind of Camillo Sceberras. A Consiglio Popolare should be organised, and should be in session when the Commissioners arrived. Sceberras reassembled the committee of Maltese which had prepared the petition in 1832, and gained their support. Committees were elected from among the professional groups in the island, and from these committees, two or three deputies were again elected to represent the profession in a General Assembly which was called Comitato Generale.
Besides the merchants, lawyers, doctors and other professions which elected deputies, the clergy and the nobility were also represented in the Comitato Generale. The heads of families in towns and villages met together in their own districts to elect their representatives. Gozo sent its own representatives too. Camillo Sceberras was elected president of the Comitato Generale.
The unity of this Comitato Generale was short-lived. The main cause of disagreement was the question of the Commissioners’ reforms. The moderate party led by Pullicino gave its full support to Austin and Lewis and showed its appreciation for the reforms being made. The Sceberras group was disappointed as it hoped that the Commissioners would recognise the right of the Maltese to have a Consiglio Popolare, or that they would submit the reforms recommended for the approval of the Comitato Generale. In December 1837, Sceberras and four others withdrew from the Committee, whose last meetings continued until January 1839.
The Commissioners arrived in October 1836 and left in June 1838. Although Lord Glenelg had numbered the investigation of the Maltese claim to a Consiglio Popolare as the first of their duties, they thought it wiser to first inquire into the several branches of the administration before forming an opinion as to the suitability of popular institutions in the Island.
A. Consligio Popolare: It was not until 1840 that they communicated their opinion to the Secretary of State. They agreed that the grant of a Consiglio Popolare, invested with extensive power, would not be in the best interests of the security of the Island. However, they were convinced that some reform was necessary. They recommended the introduction of a representative Council of Maltese, to be elected by the “property and intelligence” of the island, and to be invested with the functions, purely consultative, of the existing Council of Government.
They did not present a formal report for 2 reasons:
1) the Maltese would resent their refusal to recommend the establishment of a Consiglio Popolare;
2) Britain would certainly refuse such a moderate and sufficient concession.
B. Press: They were convinced of the necessity of granting the freedom of the press to the Maltese. The law of libel which they drafted was more severe than the British, by giving greater protection to individuals and to the Roman Catholic religion. Ordinances were promulgated by the Governor in Council on 14th March 1839. The Commissioners’ expectation that the persons who would establish independent newspapers would be of the most instructed, rational and temperate portion of the popular party, was not proved in practice. Newspapers, the first of which were moderate, rapidly became bitterly hostile to Britain and fostered opposition to the local Government. Attacks on private individuals were frequent. In 1848, an Italian refugee had to be deported for articles written in Il Mediterraneo.
C. Charitable Institutions: The regulations of the Ospizio were remodelled and its discipline improved. No new candidates were to be admitted and no more monthly alms were to be given. The money saved was to be spent in support of the Ospizio. For the future, only abandoned children were to be admitted into the foundling hospital. Measures of this type were never popular although the need for them had been apparent.
D. Education: A reform of the University, lyceum and elementary schools was promulgated by the Secretary of State on the plan advised by the Commissioners. The number of professors employed in the University was reduced, their salaries increased and a rise in the standard of instruction given developed as a result. The Committee was charged with the administration of the University and the Lyceum was reorganised and the examination system remodelled. In order to obtain a supply of good teachers, it was planned that students should be sent abroad to complete their education. Elementary education, which the Commissioners had concluded was “small in quantity and bad in quality” was to be improved and extended, and was to come under the superintendence of the Rector of the University. In the new schools, religious instruction was to remain exclusively in the hands of the Catholic clergy, and the languages taught were to be Arabic and Italian. English in Malta was strongly opposed to the clause that English was to be taught, only if time allowed, after the study of Italian. The cost of the new establishments was calculated at £3,500 as compared with the £1,725 which was formerly spent on education.
By 1842, fourteen elementary schools had been established in various casals. But the Commissioners’ plans had to be amended several times. For instance, the Rector’s duty of superintending all fields of education was too heavy, and had to be relieved of the charge of the elementary schools.
E. The Police: Lord Glenelg, although he didn’t agree with the recommendation to disband the Royal Malta Fencibles, instructed Bouverie to remodel the Police force and coastguard establishment in conformity with their plan. The Lord Lieutenants and Deputy Lieutenants were suppressed and new local officials, Syndics, were invested with powers to settle petty cases in their districts. Appeals could be made to the reformed Court. The Inspector of Police was charged with the general superintendence of the police, and with supplying the villages with sergeants and constables. The Syndics were to have the general supervision of their districts helped by the police placed at their disposal. By these reforms, a greater degree of security was given to the inhabitants of the towns and countryside.
F. Maltese executives: The Secretary of State acted also on the Commissioners’ recommendation that Maltese should be employed in important executive offices. The Commissioners maintained that the Maltese were better acquainted than the British with the circumstances of the Island, and that their appointment to civil offices would be far more acceptable to the people and would help to render the Government more popular.
G. Tariff System: Austin and Lewis decided it was wiser to continue the system of raising adequate revenue from duties on imports than tax directly land and houses.
Merchandise in transit, however, was to be exempt from import duty. The British merchants would have preferred complete freedom of trade, but the ommissioners accepted the advice against the imposition of direct taxation. The Maltese liberals opposed the policy by which articles of general consumption was taxed. Within a year, the beneficial results of the reformed tariff system were clearly apparent. In 1838, with a surplus of £15,811, the Governor reported that the finances of Malta were in a more satisfactory state than at any other previous period of British rule.
The 1849 Constitution
Between 1839 and 1848, following the concession of a free press, many Italian liberals sought refuge in Malta, a good number of whom took up a journalistic occupation. Their publications helped propagate many new ideas on topics such as freedom and education. At times, their writings greatly annoyed the Government in their own country, with the result that British interests were put in danger. In 1841, Sceberras tried, with little success to form another Comitato di Petizione. In 1845, a petition was forwarded, asking for a legislative council. The Carnival riots of 1846, a result of the Governor’s decision to ban merry making on Sunday, brought several problems to the open. In 1847, Richard More O’Ferrall, an Irishman, was nominated Civil Governor. The Maltese had long demanded a civil governor instead of a military administrator, a decision which had been opposed due to strategic reasons. The Maltese were also very pleased that at last they had a Catholic Governor. The Governor was quite sensitive to the Maltese aspirations and all through 1848 he sent various dispatches to the Secretary of State on constitutional reforms. In 1849, a partly elected council was created. The Council was to consist of 18 members. Ten were to be official and 8 were elected members. Five of the 10 members however were to be Maltese and thus the Maltese majority in the Council was secured.
The Maltese were not generally satisfied with this Council of Government. It is true that the new Council differed from the previous one, in that it was a legislative body. It was not merely a body to advice the Governor but could actually make laws. Decision making was to be by majority of votes of those present. In actual fact however, the powers of the Council were very limited. The Governor could veto, that is go against anything that the Council had decided. Of course, he had always to give reasons to the British Government for his action.
Moreover, only the Governor could put forward before the Council bills involving expenditure of money.
It is also important to note that the British Government could legislate for the Islands, irrespective of the opinion of the Council members or of the Maltese population. The 1849 Constitution did not satisfy the majority of the Maltese because:
a) The powers of the Council were very limited.
b) The Council was not really a representation of the Maltese population since the official members, that is, members who were nominated by the Government and not elected by the people, were in majority.
In 1881, the Governor was told to set up an Executive Council to help him in the actual administration.
This constitution did not work smoothly. The elected members, that is, the Maltese themselves were divided because of the Language Question. So the elected members started to quarrel among themselves. Moreover, and this was even more significant, the majority of the elected members had various quarrels with the British government who was trying to introduce the English language in the Law Courts. There was also the question about which language was to be the medium of instruction in Maltese schools. The elected members, with a few exceptions, wanted the Italian language. But the British government would not give in.
To defy the government, the elected members did not vote money for education. So on 3rd June 1903, the constitution was revoked.
One of the defects of the constitution was that it granted power without responsibility to the elected members. This led to constant quarrels between the elected members and the Executive (the Governor and those who help him in the day to day administration of the island).
The 1887 “Knutsford” Constitution
The electoral division set by the 1849 Constitution, was kept for almost forty years. In 1887, a new Constitution, the “Knutsford” Constitution, was granted to the Maltese Islands. The 1887 Constitution was granted by Letters Patent of 12th December 1887. The Council of Government was made up of the Governor and 20 members: 6 were official members, while 14 were elected. However only 10 of these were to be elected by general electors as the other four were to represent (one each) the clergy, the nobility, the University graduates and the merchants (members of the Borsa di Commercio).
The vote qualifications were more or less those set by letters Patent of the 2nd March 1883 which had done away with the literacy clause thus allowing illiterate males to vote but kept the property clause. (Letters Patent: The Malta Government Gazette, No 2987: 19th March 1883: 44-6.) All male British subjects of 21 years or over, who either paid at least six pounds rent per annum or who received a yearly income of at least the same amount from immovable property, had the right to vote. The 1887 Letter Patents made a slight amendment to this as the income could be also be derived in the name of the wife. This meant that while females were not qualified to vote, their income could help their husbands to become electors. This raised the number of electors from 2,400 to 10,637.
The 1887 Letters Patent just established that nine of the elected members were to be returned by electors in the Island of Malta, and one from Gozo. However subsequent letters patent – those of the 19th March 1888 (the first election under the new Constitution having just been held a few days previously from the 1st to the 3rd March 1888), stated that “The Island of Malta and its Dependencies shall be divided into ten electoral districts for the purpose of the election of the members of the Council of Government by the general electors….” (Malta Government Gazette, No. 3247, 2nd April 1888: 125-6).
According to the schedule annexed to the same Letters Patent the districts were formed as follows:
1. East Valletta: all of the City of Valletta east of the centre of Strada Forni
2. West Valletta: all of the city of Valletta west of the centre of Strada Forni, together with Sliema and St. Julian’s
3. Floriana together with Ħamrun, Pieta’ and Msida
4. Cospicua together with Zabbar
5. Vittoriosa and Senglea
6. Notabile together with Rabato, Dingli, Siġġiewi, Mosta and Mellieħa
7. Birkirkara together with Balzan, Lija, Attard, Naxxar and Għargħur
8. Qormi together with Zebbug, Luqa and Mqabba
9. Zejtun together with Tarxien, Paola, Għaxaq, Gudja, Kirkop, Zurrieq, Safi and Qrendi
10. Gozo together with Comino.
Each of these districts had to return one councillor. The first elections after this division in districts were held between the 24th and 25th September 1889. The number of electors stood at 9,777 out of whom only 3,383 voted (34.6%). Once again plural voting was allowed.
Technically the same person could vote 10 times as a person possessing the required property in two or more districts, could vote in each of these districts. In addition he could also vote for the special members of the Council if he was a clergyman, a University graduate, a member of the nobility or a member of the Borsa di Commercio. This time the elections in Gozo were contested by Dr Salvatore Castaldi and Michel’Angelo Maria Mizzi. The latter was returned obtaining 287 votes. In the previous election, the first held under the 1887 Constitution, elections were not held in Gozo as the only candidate to present himself was Dr Fortunato Mizzi LL.D, who was of course declared elected. Dr Mizzi at that time led il Partito Nazionale.
These electoral districts were kept for the next five general elections, the last one being held in 1900. Elections were held in 1892, 1895, 1898, 1899 and 1900. In 1899 the electors were not asked to vote as only one candidate in each district contested the election, and all candidates were declared elected. The same happened in 1900, with the exception of the eighth district where the elected candidate was returned with 107 votes.
The 1903 Chamberlain Constitution
The new constitution, the 1903 Constitution led to a return to the 1849 state of things.
Out of 20 members, there were to be only 8 elected members. The Maltese started to boycott council meetings and they referred to this council as a farce and an oppressive oligarchy (a small group of people who together governed, often for their own purposes).
The Sette Giugno
In the aftermath of World War I, with the disruptions in agriculture and industry across the whole of the continent, the Maltese colonial government failed to provide an adequate supply of basic food provisions for the islands.
The cost of living increased dramatically after the war. Imports were limited, and as food became scarce prices rose; this made the fortune of farmers and merchants with surpluses to trade. The dockyard and government workers found that wage increases were not keeping up with the increase in the cost of food. The dockyard workers formed a union in 1916, and in 1917 organised a strike after being offered a 10 per cent pay increase which was generally regarded as failing to keep up with the cost of living. Some segments of the society did well economically. There was a wide spread belief amongst the populace that grain importers and
flour millers were making excessive profits over the price of bread. Merchants controlling other commodities also made large profits from the war, in spite of price regulations. Political developments were also a fundamental cause of the uprising. The first meeting of the National Assembly, held on February 25, 1919, approved a resolution which reserved for Malta all the rights given to other nations by the Versailles peace conference; this would have meant independence from the British Empire. This resolution, tabled by the extremist nationalist faction led by Dr. Enrico Mizzi, was opposed to an original resolution by Dr. Filippo Sceberras which asked solely for responsible government. This moderate resolution was removed in order to secure unanimity, and to prevent a break between the moderate and extremist factions.
Extremism was also present in the crowds that, on February 25, attacked shopkeepers which had remained open during the meeting of the Assembly, such as the shop “A la Ville de Londres.” The police forces had not stopped these attacks, and this played in the hands of the extremist currents in the Assembly.
A few days before the June 7 National Assembly meeting, the Secretary of State for the Colonies had informed Dr. Sceberras that the incoming governor for the islands, Lord Plumer, was to study the situation and report back to London with regards to the possibility of giving the Maltese a larger say in the administration of their country. The followers of Enrico Mizzi stated that the Imperial government could not be trusted, with the result that the two currents of thought were also reflected in the crowds outside. University students were mostly linked to the extremist camp, and these had staged a protest of their own on May 16, 1919. The police forces were threatening strikes, as were the postal employees.
On Saturday, June 7, 1919, the National Assembly was to meet for the second time in the Giovine Malta building. The police had foreseen the possibility of unrest, and on June 5 asked for a number of soldiers to be posted in Castille. As stated later by the Commission inquiring on the June 7 uprisings, “Evidently the Police did not appreciate the gravity of the situation.”
The first spark of unrest centred on the Maltese flag defaced with the Union Jack flying above the “A la Ville de Londres.” Unlike the previous meeting, the shop was now closed.
This did not prevent the crowd from itself forcing inside, to remove the flag along with the staff. This incident sparked the uprising. The death of the President of the Court some days earlier had required all governmental departments to fly the Union Jack at half mast, including the Bibliothèque buildings in Pjazza Regina and the meteorological office. The crowd proceeded to the Officers Club, insisting that the club’s door had to be closed.
Window panes were broken, while officers inside were insulted. Police officers trying to restrain the mob were also assaulted. The crowd then proceeded back in front of the Bibliothèque, shouting for the Union Jack to be taken away; this was promptly removed by the men in duty.
The crowd moved on to the meteorological offices, housed in a Royal Air Force turret. After breaking the glass panes, the mob entered the offices ransacking and destroying everything inside. Some individuals climbed onto the turret, removing the Union Jack and throwing it into the street. The crowd burned the flag along with furniture taken from the offices nearby.
The mob then moved back to Palace square, were it began to insult the soldiers detached infront the Main Guard buildings. The soldier, who was responsible for the watch, closed the doors of the buildings, as were the doors of the Magisterial Palace across the square. In Strada Teatro, the offices of the Daily Malta Chronicle were broken into, with pieces of metal placed in the workings of the presses to break them down. While this was happening, other crowds were attacking the homes of perceived supporters of the imperial government and merchants in Strada Forni.
The Police Forces’ acting-commissioner then called for military support. At 17.30, sixty-four soldiers from the Composite Battalions entered the Courts which housed the headquarters of the police force. Later historians criticised the use of such a small number of soldiers to counter a crowd made up of thousands, which was attacking locations in Strada Teatro, Strada Forni and had now progressed towards Strada Santa Lucia. Six soldiers made their way towards Strada Forni to defend the house of Anthony Cassar Torreggiani, a leading importer, which was under attack by the crowd. Furniture was being thrown outside from the windows.
In the National Assembly, which was unaware of the uprising outside, the moderates were gaining the upper hand. The moderates were bent on accepting the message of the Secretary for the Colonies as a genuine step towards improving the situation, and had to be recognised as such.
Ten soldiers approached the offices of the Chronicle, surrounded by a crowd which began to throw objects and stones at the soldiers. The same happened in Strada Forni, were six soldiers were trying to stem a crowd of thousands. Ritchie sent Ferguson to bring reinforcements.
With the revolver stolen, and with uniform rent, the captain reached a troop of twenty-four soldiers which was then directed to Strada Forni. The soldiers were posted along the street, facing in both directions. It is important to note that the troops were not to shoot without being ordered to do so. The soldiers took their positions, aiming at the crowd – which then retreated.
The report of the inquiring commission then proceeded to state that a shot was heard from the direction of a window of the Cassar Torreggiani house. At that moment, eyewitnesses reported that one of the soldiers shot a round into the crowd, with the rest of the troop following. The first victim of the uprising, Manwel Attard, fell in front of the Cassar Torregiani house. Other individuals were injured. Guze’ Bajjada was hit near Strada Teatro, the Maltese flag he was carrying fell underneath him. The officer in charge began shouting for the firing to cease. Meanwhile, in the Chronicle offices, Lieutenant Shields ordered his men outside, since there was an evident smell of gas in the building. Shields feared making the soldiers exit the office one by one, since the crowd outside would certainly attack them.
On the other hand, they could not remain inside. To clear a way out, Shields ordered a soldier to shoot low, away from the crowd. This shot hit Lorenzo Dyer, who tried to run away. Since the injury was serious, he was lifted by the crowd and carried to Palace square. During this initial uprising, three were dead and fifty injured.
The proceedings in the National Assembly were interrupted as persons injured in the streets were brought inside. Some of the delegates went out of the buildings, while others ran to the balcony. The Assembly passed a quick motion in order to have a resolution to present to the Imperial government. Count Alfredo Caruana Gatto then addressed the crowds, asking them to restrain themselves from further violence. The Assembly then sent a delegation to the Lieutenant Governor, asking for the troops to be removed for the crowds to retreat. The Governor accepted, and Caruana Gatto addressed the crowd again, which complied and began to fall back.
The day after, disturbances continued with crowds attacking the palace of Colonel Francia, who also owned a flour milling machine. Royal Malta Artillery soldiers were used to protect Francia’s house, but these were loath of using force against their own countrymen. The crowd forced its way in, and threw furniture, silverware and other objects outside. In the evening, one hundred and forty navy marines arrived, clearing the house and street from the crowds.
Carmelo Abela was in one of the side doorways of Francia’s house, calling for his son. Two marines proceeded to arrest him, and after resisting, a marine ran him through in the stomach with a bayonet. Abela died on June 16.
The riots reflected the unsatisfactory nature of economic and political life in Malta. Economically the island had become a fortress in which few prospered when military spending was high. Strategically, the imperial fortress was so important that political development was stifled.
The day after the attack, censorship was reinstated for political articles. In the morning flowers and other tributes were placed in the streets where the victims died. The deaths and injuries of so many persons did not halt the uprisings. Another group attacked the flour mills owned by Cassar Torreggiani in Marsa, while other trading houses were raided in the outlying villages.
A Military Court was opened to investigate the uprising on June 16, with a court martial instituted to investigate thirty-two people that took part in the uprisings. For legislative matters, the Sette Giugno underlined the urgency of reform. The new Governor, Lord Plumer, recommended liberal concessions to the Maltese. The House of Commons of the United Kingdom stressed that Malta was to have “control of purely local affairs”, with the Colonial Secretary sending a detailed description of the proposed constitution to the National Assembly. On April 30, 1921, the Amery-Milner Constitution was proclaimed; political censorship enforced after the uprising was repealed on June 15, 1921. The first election held under the new constitution was held in October 1921, with the Prince of Wales inaugurating the new representative chambers on November 1, 1921.
The bodies of the four victims of the Sette Giugno were put in their tomb in the Addolorata Cemetery on November 9, 1924.
On June 7, 1986 the Sette Giugno monument was inaugurated at Palace Square, Valletta. The Maltese Parliament declared the day to be one of the five national days of the island, on March 21, 1989, with the first official remembrance of the day occurring on June 7, 1989.
The 1921 Constitution (Amery-Milner Constitution)
Under this Constitution the administration of local affairs was entrusted, with some reservations, in the hands of the Maltese Government. This Government was to be made up of a Senate and a Legislative Assembly. The Senate was to be made up of 10 special members representing certain bodies (two representatives of each of the following bodies: The Clergy nominated by the Archbishop, the Nobility, Graduates, Chamber of Commerce, Trade Union Council elected by the respective special members), and seven members elected by general electors. The Legislative Assembly was constituted of 32 members.
This constitution gave Malta a Government by Diarchy(meaning two authorities)
- The Maltese Government for Local Affairs,
- The Imperial Government for Reserved Matters.
The Maltese side of administration
1. The Senate (17 elected members)
2. The Legislative Assembly (32 elected members)
3. A Cabinet (Governor, Head of Ministry or prime Minister and 7 other Ministers)
4. 7 Ministries
5. Laws (Acts or Bills)
Voting and elections
1. Election for the Legislative Assembly every 3 years
2. Males over 21 with proper education and property qualifications could vote
3. Election for Senate every 6 years. 10 members were chosen by general electors, 7 were chosen by special voters (Clergy, nobility, graduates, Chamber of Commerce and Trade Unions).
The Imperial side of administration
1. Head of Government: The Governor who presided over the Nominated Council, the Privy Council and the Joint Committee to advise himon Reserved Matters. Governor could agree or act against their advice.
2. Reserved matters included control over military and defence, the Dockyard, the harbours, airports, communication systems, land and building used by the British Government, issuing of money, passports, citizenship, censorship, revenue reserved for the Crown.
3. Laws (Ordinances)
Approval of facts and Ordinances
1. Laws passed by both assemblies were passed by a majority of members present.
2. All laws passed by both assembles had to be approved first by the Governor, then by the Secretary of State.
3. The Crown reserved the right to make Orders-in-Council or to annul laws passed.
4. To amend the Constitution, both assemblies had to meet in a joint session and obtain a two-thirds majority of all members
What happened in case of disagreement between both assembles?
The Governor could call for a joint session, dissolve one or both assemblies and call for new elections.
What happened in case of disagreement over Reserved Matters?
The Governor summoned the Privy Council (for serious matters) or the Joint Committee (for less serious matters)
The 1921 Constitution was suspended in 1933 and revoked in 1936.
The 1939 “MacDonald” Constitution
Gozo lost its identity as a district in 1939 when a new constitution, (granted by Letters Patent of the 14th February 1939), the “MacDonald” Constitution, was granted to Malta. This Constitution was a retrograde step in Malta’s Constitutional Development as once again a Council of Government was set up. This was made up of 20 members under the presidency of the Governor. Only ten of the members were to be elected five from each of the two districts.
Gozo formed part of the Second District (Ordinance No XIX of 1939, Malta Government Gazette, (Suppl) XLVIII, 1st April 1939: 464). The Second District consisted of: Attard, Balzan, Birkirkara, Dingli, Għargħur, Gżira, Ħamrun, Lija, Marsa, Mdina, Mellieħa, Mġarr, Naxxar, Pieta’, Rabat, Sliema, St Julians, St Paul’s Bay, St Vennera, Gozo and Comino.
The 1947 MacMichael Constitution
This Constitution was basically a return of the 1921 for of Government, though there were some differences as well. Forty members were to be elected by Universal Suffrage to form a Legislative Assembly. Elections were to be held every 4 years and no senate was to be set up.
This Maltese parliament was competent to legislate on all questions save “matters touching public safety or defence of Our Dominions.” The Maltese Parliament could not legislate on Reserved Matters.
The 1964 Independence Constitution
The Constitution of Malta was adopted as a legal order on September 21, 1964, and has been amended twenty-four times, most recently in 2007 with the entrenchment of the office of the Ombudsman. The constitution replaced the 1961 Constitution, dating from October 24, 1961.
George Borg Olivier was its main instigator and negotiator.
Under its 1964 constitution, Malta became a parliamentary democracy within the British Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II was sovereign of Malta, and a governor general exercised executive authority on her behalf, while the actual direction and control of the government and the nation’s affairs were in the hands of the cabinet under the leadership of a Maltese prime minister.
The Independence Constitution of Malta of 1964 established Malta as a liberal parliamentary democracy. It safeguarded the fundamental human rights of citizens, and forced a separation between the executive, judicial and legislative powers, with regular elections based on universal suffrage. Malta still had these three organs of the State, even before independence.
The present constitution was developed through constitutional history and its evolution.
The constitutions of Malta fell under three main categories. These were:
- Those over which the British possessed total power;
- The intermediate genres of constitutions (1921-1947), where Malta had self government (the 1961 constitution was very similar to these constitutions);
- The Independence Constitution of 1964.
On July 27, 1960, the Secretary of State for the Colonies declared to the British House of Commons the wish of Her Majesty’s Government to reinstate representative government in Malta and declare that it was now time to work out a new constitution where elections could be held as soon as it was established. The Secretary, Iain Macleod, also notified the House of the appointment of a Constitutional Commission, under the chairmanship of Sir Hilary Blood, to devise thorough constitutional schemes after consultation with representatives of the Maltese people and local interests.
The Commissioners presented their report on December 5, 1960. The report was published on March 8, 1961. That same day, the Secretary of State declared to the House of Commons that Her Majesty’s Government had taken a decision. The Commissioner’s constitutional recommendations to be the basis for the subsequent Malta constitution were to be granted.
The 1961 Constitution was also known as the Blood Constitution. It was enclosed in the Malta Constitution Order in Council 1961 and it was completed on 24 October of that same year. The statement that the Order makes provision for a new constitution where Malta is given self-government is found on the final page of the Order in Council.
The 1961 Constitution provided the backbone for the Independence Constitution. A date was provided to guarantee this legal continuity. An indispensable characteristic of this constitution is the substitution of the diarchic system, which was no longer practicable, by system of only one Government, the Government of Malta, with full legislative and executive powers. At that time Malta was still a colony and responsibility for defence and external affairs were referred to Her Majesty’s Government. There was a clear indication that the road towards independence continued and now was at a highly developed stage. It is imperative to recognise that the 1961 Constitution established most of the features of the 1964 Constitution.
The British recognised Malta as a State. Another important characteristic of this constitution was an innovative introduction of a chapter covering the safeguarding of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual. This is fairly significant because Fundamental Human Rights are a protection for the individual by the State. In the 1961 Constitution, Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms are found in Chapter IV. The protection of freedom of movement was introduced only in the 1964 Constitution.
The declaration of rights of the inhabitants of the islands of Malta and Gozo dated June 15, 1802, gives a collective declaration of rights. The 1961 Constitution gave birth to what was recognised as a Parliament in the 1964 Independence Constitution. The Cabinet had the general direction and management of the Government of Malta. It consisted of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister alone might summon it and it was this office which presided over it. Not more than seven other ministers were members of the Legislative Assembly, and they were collectively responsible to it. This was one of the first attempts to restate some of the more important British Constitutional Conventions in the constitution. In the exercise of his powers, the Governor was to act on the advice of the Cabinet, except where he was directed to act in his discretion or on the recommendation or advice of a person other than the Cabinet.
Three elections of the promulgation of the 1961 Constitution existed. This constitution included the presence of a Cabinet for the first time in Malta. The legislature was unicameral.
The Legislative Assembly’s normal life span was of four years. It consisted of fifty members and they were elected by universal suffrage from ten electoral divisions on the system of proportional representation by the single transferable vote. The 1961 Constitution constructed a firm foundation for a future achievement of Independence.
When in 1964 Malta did in fact become independent, because the Government chose to avoid breaking all ties with the United Kingdom, there was legal continuity of the legislation, as a result of which Parliament remained functional. To a certain extent the same situation existed as regards to the legislation by the British Parliament for Malta.
The Malta Independence Order itself developed into the subject of an entrenchment, since here it is declared that this evolved into an extension to the 1961 Constitution even in the sense of an amendment.
Even though Malta acquired independence, there was an ongoing presence of continuity. One of them is the monarchy pre-1964 and prior 1964. The Malta Independence Order 1964 was subject to the Malta Independence Act of that same year and it is a document that holds the chief regulations that govern the constitution of a state. This document is supreme over each and every other document and all legislation is subject to it.
Throughout Malta’s constitutional history, the nation acquired its own constitution, and to a certain extent, the Independence Constitution is made up of certain principles that arose for the first time in previous constitutions. It can be said that the Independence Constitution has evolved from the constitution which preceded it. But one must not ignore the fact that changes have taken place in this process of evolution. The statement that the 1964 constitution is in fact a replica of the 1961 constitution with
sovereignty added might be criticised by saying that some factors differ between the two constitutions. The 1964 constitution is not merely what can be defined as an improvement. It is more like another stepping-stone in constitutional history being the final step in a long series of constitutions. In fact, even though it may seem that some provisions were altered from the 1961 constitution to the 1964 constitution, some of those provisions remained unchanged until the amendments of the 1964 constitution were made.
Not everyone in Malta agreed on the final Independence Constitution. The M.L.P. had special objections on three points.
The Party felt that
i) the Constitution was not liberal enough with regards to religion,
ii) the Defence Agreement was against the concept of Independence,
iii) the Financial Agreement was not supporting enough the needs of an independent Malta.
The P.N. who was in government, however, was quite popular at that time and thus such opposition did not damage its objective of achieving Independence as regulated by that constitution. The Maltese were asked in a referendum held in May 1964 whether they agreed with the Independence Constitution, with the majority answering ‘yes’. Thus on 21st September 1964, after 164 years of British rule, Malta achieved its political independence and became a sovereign state.
In December 1964, Malta joined the United Nations, becoming the 114th member state. In March 1965, it also joined the Council of Europe as its 18th member state.
In 1971 new political elections took place in Malta and this time the M.L.P. took over the government. One of the first actions of the new government was to discuss with Britain the Defence Agreement which had been agreed to in 1964. A new Agreement was signed in 1972 which specified that the British forces would only be able to use Malta as a military base till 1979.
On December 13, 1974, the constitution was revised, and Malta became a republic within the Commonwealth, with executive authority vested in a Maltese president. The president is appointed by parliament. In turn, the president appoints as prime minister the leader of the party that wins a majority of parliamentary seats in a general election for the unicameral House of Representatives.
The president also nominally appoints, upon recommendation of the prime minister, the individual ministers to head each of the government departments. The cabinet is selected from among the members of the House of Representatives. The Constitution provides for general elections to be held at least every five years. Candidates are elected by the Single Transferable Vote system. The entire territory is divided into thirteen electoral districts each returning five MPs to a total of 65.
On 31st March 1979 the Defence Agreement ended and the last Royal navy ship left Malta with the Labour Government proclaiming the day as ‘Freedom Day’ (Jum il-Helsien).
In 1981, another lection took place, but in spite of the fact that the Nationalist Party gained the absolute majority of the votes, having secured 4,000 more votes than the Labour Party, the latter held on to the control of the country as it had a three seat majority in Parliament.
In 1987 the P.N. regained government and the Constitution was amended. Since 1987, in case a Party obtains an absolute majority of votes without achieving a Parliamentary majority a mechanism in the Constitution provides for additional seats to that Party to achieve a Parliamentary majority (Act IV of 1987). To date this mechanism, intended to counteract gerrymandering, came into effect twice: for the Sixth and the Eight Parliaments. A similar mechanism was introduced in 1996 so that additional seats would be given to that Party obtaining a relative majority of votes but not a Parliamentary majority with only two parties achieving Parliamentary representation. This mechanism was first applied in the 2008 general election.
Malta has had numerous past constitutions.
- The 1813 Constitution
- The 1835 Constitution
- The 1849 Constitution
- The 1887 Knutsford Constitution
- The 1903 Chamberlain Constitution
- The 1921 Amery-Milner Constitution
- The 1936 Constitution
- The 1939 MacDonald Constitution
- The 1947 MacMichael Constitution
- The 1959 Constitution
- The 1961 Blood Constitution
A Synthesis of the Constitution of Malta
Malta’s 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 practice 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 Malta Independence Order, 1964, as amended by Acts:
- XLI of 1965, XXXVII of 1966
- IX of 1967
- XXVI of 1970
- XLVII of 1972
- LVII, LVIII of 1974
- XXXVIII of 1976
- X of 1977
- XXIX of 1979
- IV of 1987
- XXIII of 1989
- Proclamations Nos. II and VI of 1990
- Acts XIX of 1991
- IX of 1994
- Proclamations IV of 1995 and III of 1996
- Acts: XI of 1996, XVI of 1997
- Acts: III of 2000 and XIII of 2001