The President of Malta, Dr George Abela, yesterday signed the divorce law that was passed by Parliament last Monday. This is the final step in the legislative process. The Act was published in the Government Gazette yesterday, a year after Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando had introduced the Private Member’s Bill proposing the introduction of divorce. It will become effective on 1 October 2o11 to allow for any administrative arrangements that need to be put in place to give effect to the various provisions of the new law.
The Maltese Parliament last Monday passed the divorce law in a historic vote in the Third Reading, the final stage in the legislative process. With 52 votes in favour, 11 against, five abstentions and one absence, a majority of more than two-thirds of MPs approved the divorce bill after it had successfully undergone detailed scrutiny and amendments during the Committee Stage process which took place between 13 and 19 July.
In the third and final reading of the Bill amending the Civil Code, eight MPs changed their vote to a Yes after having voted against or abstained at the Second Reading stage. Two ministers changed their stance: Education Minister Dolores Cristina, who had voted against the Bill in the Second Reading, and Rural Affairs Minister George Pullicino, who had abstained. Dr Francis Zammit Dimech, who coordinated the PN side during the committee stage, also changed his stand and voted in favour, after having voted against in the Second Reading. Four PN backbenchers Charlò Bonnici, Jean Pierre Farrugia, Stephen Spiteri and Ninu Zammit changed from abstention to approval. The eighth MP, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, who had abstained in the second reading, also voted in favour.
Labour MP Adrian Vassallo was notably absent absence from the House, having been the only Labour MP to vote against the Bill in the second reading.
Before voting took place in the third reading yesterday, Parliament unanimously approved all the amendments to the Bill that had been drafted by a parliamentary committee that painstakingly scrutinised the various clauses of the Bill. There was only one division taken at the Committee Stage, called by Opposition Whip Joe Mizzi on an amendment due to its relevance to the terms of the referendum question. No fewer than 58 MPs voted in favour of the amendment. All other amendments were agreed to in an unusally efficient sitting chaired by Speaker Michael Frendo.
After the approval in committee stage, the House adjourned for 30 minutes for what technically constituted another sitting when the third and final reading of the Bill took place. For the vote, the clerk of the House first called out the names of those MPs who were in favour as they stood up to register their vote. She then called out the names of those who voted against and finally of those who abstained.
All legislation such as pension laws affected by divorce will have to be studied by a special committee and recommendations made by February 29. The Prime Minister is subsequently bound to approve the necessary amendments through a legal notice by June 30 of the same year. Changes will be retroactive to October 1, 2011.
This historic enactment of the divorce law, which is couched as an amendment to the Civil Code, has taken Malta get off the list of the two remaining countries where divorce is not allowed. The other country, the Philippines, now remains the only other country in the world where divorce is still illegal.
The new law enables those couples who have been separated for at least four years to obtain a divorce in Malta.