The government has proposed a bill seeking to delay the enforcement of a landmark law on criminal procedures, prompting criticism that the government is not committed to reforming the criminal justice system.
The Criminal Procedures Act was approved in April, and was set to come into force on January 7.
If the bill submitted by MP Abdulla ‘Bochey’ Rifau of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives passes, the law will only come into force in June next year.
Rifau contended that the six-month delay was necessary to “train the judiciary, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors” on the new law. The bill is likely to pass as the ruling coalition holds a simple majority in the parliament.
The Criminal Procedure’s Code outlines rules to investigate, prosecute and pass judgment on suspected criminal offenders, and limits the discretionary powers currently afforded to judges, police officers and prosecutors.
The long-awaited bill’s passage was hailed by the government as a “milestone” to strengthen the country’s widely condemned criminal justice system, which came under fire for “grossly unfair” trials of high profile politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.
MPs were not allowed to debate the proposal to postpone the enforcement of the law.
Some 41 MPs voted to accept the bill for consideration.
Using an opportunity to speak on an amendments proposed to a separate law, PPM MP Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim, who abandoned the ruling coalition last month, said the delay would allow the government to go after lawmakers. If MPs voted for the delay, “it would be like strangling ourselves,” he said.
“In reality the whole point is to keep the law aside. [The government] has no intention of passing it, and wants to continue to do whatever they please, without any respect for the laws passed by this parliament,” he said.
Husnu Suood, a former attorney general, said the move demonstrated a lack of commitment on the government’s part to reform the criminal justice system.
“The law provided adequate time to prepare all the institutions to the changes to the law. It’s been a decade since the bill has been in the making, these are not new changes, everyone in the legal system must now be fairly familiar with what the law entails,” he said.
The code was originally drafted along with a new penal code in 2005 and submitted to the parliament under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration.
It was redrafted under former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration, and approved under President Abdulla Yameen’s regime.
The additional six-month period would deprive individuals who are under investigation and on trial of the many rights guaranteed under the law, Suood added.
A defence lawyer who spoke on the condition of anonymity echoed Suood’s concerns.
“We saw that the penal code was delayed twice. This is yet another case, it seems to me that the government is not really serious about reforming criminal justice system,” he said.
“The law details specific rules to carry out investigations, lifting charges and trial. The delay means all those things would remain discretionary for another six months.”
Ahmed Majid, a spokesman for the Judicial Training Center, said a training module on the Criminal Procedures Act has been formulated, but trainings have not begun yet.
“This center became operational only in October. So far, we have carried out trainings for the penal code in seven atolls. We have formulated a module on the Criminal Procedure Code, but haven’t been able to conduct any trainings yet, since it’s near the end of the year and we are low on funds.”
The enforcement of the Maldives’ new penal code, which replaced a 1968 law, had also faced delays.
Crucial bills on handling evidence and civil procedures are still pending at the parliament.
Correction: November 16, 2016
An earlier version of this article misidentified the MP who proposed the amendment to postpone enforcement of the Criminal Procedures Code. It was not Shah Ali, but Abdulla ‘Bochey’ Rifau.