The Parliament Committee on Independent Institutions late Monday night approved an amendment to the Judicature Act of Maldives that would allow a sitting judge to be removed, if convicted of a criminal offense.
The amendment proposed by ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) deputy leader and Fonadhoo MP Abdul Raheem Abdullah last week allow judges to be automatically removed if they were found guilty of a criminal offense by an appellate court.
The amendment was forwarded to the parliamentary committee for review during Monday’s sitting; the committee had approved it that night without any revisions, except for minor changes in the phrasing of certain clauses.
The opposition, which continues to boycott the parliament sittings held during the state of emergency, maintained that the amendment proposed by the government contradicts with Article 154 of the Constitution.
Article 154 states that a judge can only be removed from office if the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) finds that the person is grossly incompetent, or that the judge is guilty of gross misconduct. JSC is required to submit a resolution to the parliament supporting the removal of the judge, which has to be approved by at least two-thirds majority of the parliament present at the vote.
However, the new amendment proposed by the government states that the procedures declared in Article 154 of the Constitution would not be applicable when removing a judge who has been found guilty of a crime, since it does not constitute a disciplinary action.
Further, the appeal of judges who are found guilty of a crime is to be submitted and concluded within a certain time frame, according to the new amendments to the Judicature Act.
The amendments proposed by the ruling party also state that if a judge has been accused of a crime, he should be suspended immediately, with pay; however, once the trial process begins, the judge is to remain suspended until the end of the trial, without pay.
The new amendments to the Judicature Act coincides with the detention of Chief Justice Abdullah Saeed and Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed, who were arrested February 5, just hours after President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency, which is still in place. They have since been accused of bribery and conspiring to overthrow the government, among other serious allegations.
If the amendment is passed by the parliament, the two top justices will be deposed without a parliament vote as stated in the Constitution.