Supreme Court proposes changes to new penal code

Supreme Court proposes changes to new penal code
February 02 18:29 2016

The Supreme Court has proposed amendments to the Maldives’ new penal code in the first known meeting of the multi-stakeholder judicial sector law reform committee on Sunday, according to the state broadcaster.

The committee was formed by the apex court in 2014, and comprises of the five judges of the Supreme Court, the prosecutor general, the attorney general, the police chief and the home minister.

Public Service Media did not reveal details of the proposed changes.

The new penal code, which came into force in July, replaced a 1968 code that was criticised as draconian and out dated. Despite the adoption of the new progressive code, it is not clear if it has been applied in sentencing yet.

The apex court had sought to amend the newly enacted penal code before.

Excerpts of the changes proposed by the Supreme Court, obtained by The Maldives Independent, shows that the judiciary wanted to set the age of criminal responsibility to seven years, as well as jail terms and hefty fines for defaming employees of the state.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives had suspended parliament sittings in the week preceding the enactment of the penal code in order to block changes, a senior MP told the The Maldives Independent at the time.

The multi-stakeholder committee meeting on Sunday was chaired by Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed. The four judges of the Supreme Court, Home Minister Umar Naseer, Commissioner of Police Ahmed Areef, Attorney General Mohamed Anil and Prosecutor General Aishath Bisham attended the meeting.

According to PSM, Saeed also proposed changes to the draft code on civil procedures.

The committee was formed with the aim of reforming laws, regulations, procedures and practices “to pave the way for social, political and economic changes in line with the constitution, and to enable the judiciary to protect the democratic environment and strengthen the criminal, civil and juvenile justice systems,” the Supreme Court has previously said.

Aishath Velezinee, a former member of the watchdog Judicial Services Commission, has previously criticised the committee’s work as an encroachment on the powers of the People’s Majlis.

Judicial reform and legal reform are different, she said, arguing that while the Supreme Court may formulate regulations to improve service delivery, its leadership role in proposing amendments to existing laws “is out of bounds.”

The Supreme Court has also been criticised for centralising administrative decisions in its hands. It recently enacted regulations hiking fines for contempt of court and has seized the JSC’s power to penalise and transfer judges.

Judges are also now required to seek Supreme Court approval for time off from work and to recuse themselves from specific cases. New court buildings also require the apex court’s approval.

Calls for judicial reform have been growing, especially in the wake of the jailing of former President Mohamed Nasheed on a terrorism charge.

The Maldives “politicised” judiciary came under fire last May at the UN Human Rights Council.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon at the time said the Maldives has formulated a judicial sector strategic action plan to increase public confidence in the judiciary. The Maldives Independent has not been able to obtain a copy of the plan despite repeated attempts.

Additional reporting by Mohamed Saif Fathih