The key political event in December was the removal of two judges from the Supreme Court bench after bringing amendments to the Judicature Act. In addition to this, several key legislatures were passed by the Parliament during the final sitting for this year 2014.
(1) Removal of two sitting judges from the Supreme Court
During the month of November a bill to amend the Judicature Act was submitted. The amendment proposed to decrease the number of judges at Supreme Court from seven to five. The voting was held on 10 December 2014, and 46 MPs voted in favour of passing the amendment while 21 voted against it. The amended Judicature Act provided for the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) to forward to the Parliament the names of two Supreme Court judges that the Commission deem as incompetent. On an emergency meeting held on 11 December 2014, JSC decided both Justice Muthasim Adnan and Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain as incompetent. During the extraordinary sitting of the Parliament held on 14 December 2014, MPs from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) condemned the Speaker of the Parliament and secretariat for failing to provide details of the JSC report which recommended removal of the two judges. MDP issued a three-line whip against the amendment , whereas JP issued a free whip. A total of 53 MPs voted in favour of the removal of the two judges while 21 MPs voted against the removal. Despite issuance of a three-line whip, six MPs from MDP did not attend the session, which helped the ruling coalition get the two-third majority vote required to remove the two judges. Five MPs from JP voted in favour of removal and four MPs from JP voted against the removal of two judges. A total of two MPs opted to choose neither sides and one MP abstained.
The US Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal and international agencies such as International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) expressed serious concerns and disapproval citing the removal as arbitrary, unfair and unconstitutional. According to The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, not publicizing the grounds for removal of the two judges is not acceptable. She also added that it violates Article 154 of the Constitution which states that a judge may be removed from office only if JSC finds the person grossly incompetent, or guilty of misconduct.
A joint statement released by Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association (CMJA), Commonwealth Legal Education Association (CLEA), and Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA) also condemned removal of the two judges as unconstitutional and a breach of Commonwealth standards.
(2) Newly passed Acts
During the month of December, several important Acts were passed. These include the Extradition Act, the Mutual Legal Assistance Act, and the Transfer of Prisoners Act. These Acts contain provisions that brought Maldives inline with various areas of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption to which Maldives had acceded to in 2007.
- The Extradition Act: The Act provides for the situations and procedures where people accused or convicted of crimes can be extradited to and from the Maldives. The Act classifies the types of offences for which individuals can be extradited and regulates the procedures to be followed in extraditing individuals.
- The Mutual Legal Assistance Act: The main objective of the Act is to mutually provide and get assistance pertaining to criminal proceedings, through establishing necessary relationships and procedures. Such assistance include the provision of evidence and arrangements for travelling of persons who provide testimonials against transnational crimes. In addition to this, asset and financial statements from banks and freezing of assets are also covered under this Act.
- Transfer of Prisoners Act: This Act provides for inter-state transfer of prisoners and allows them to serve whole or part of their sentence in their home country. According to the Act, the remainder of the sentence must be less than a six months and only the most recent sentence is considered.
(3) Constitutional amendments submitted
A constitutional amendment was submitted on 24 December 2014, which proposes to amend the Article 109 of the Constitution to bar the eligible age for contesting in the presidential race to 65 years. MPs from JP condemned such an amendment is a violation of a basic constitutional right. According to the prominent lawyer and former Attorney General Sood, a referendum is necessary before the Parliament decides to bring such an amendment. Amendments to the bill on security and benefits of ex-presidents was also sent to the Parliament on 25 December 2014. The amendments include various benefits entitled to ex-presidents and provisions for deprivation of security and benefits of the same.
The Parliament has concluded the final term of the year 2014 and the Parliament sessions for the year 2015 will commence during the first week of March. During the upcoming period, it is expected the Parliament will pass the amendments to the Prohibiting Threatening and Possession of Dangerous Weapons and Sharp Objects Act 2010. This Act comprehensively provides penalties against use of threatening and possession of dangerous weapons and sharp objects. Such penalties include capital punishment and life-time imprisonment.