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High Court overrules objections to bench change in MP Faris appeal

The presiding judge in the three-judge panel overseeing the case was changed after hearings concluded in early August. The lawmaker was arrested on a bribery charge in late July and placed under detention for the duration of the trial.



The High Court decided Tuesday to proceed with appeal hearings on MP Faris Maumoon’s arrest and detention after overruling strong objections over the change of the bench.

The three-judge panel overseeing the appeal was changed after hearings concluded in early August. The MP for the Dhiggaru constituency was arrested in late July and placed under detention for the duration of a trial on a charge of attempting to bribe a fellow lawmaker.

His lawyers challenged the legality of both the arrest warrant and detention order by the criminal court.

While both sides were awaiting a ruling, the presiding Judge Ali Sameer was replaced with Judge Shujau Usman, a former criminal court judge who was promoted to the appellate court bench after sentencing former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.

The defence counsel previously argued that changing the presiding judge in mid-trial violated a 2012 Supreme Court precedent.

But the apex court ruled last week that it was up to the High Court to decide on the procedural issue.

The High Court appeal resumed Tuesday with a hearing closed to the media. Faris’s father, former President Maumoon Gayoom, and his mother Nasreena Ibrahim, were in attendance.

An aide to the former president told the Maldives Independent that the defence lawyer Maumoon Hameed presented several arguments against the change of the bench.

But the judges ruled that the bench was lawfully constituted and decided to proceed with the case.

Apart from Judge Usman, the other two judges are Abdulla Didi, the High Court’s chief judge, and Judge Abdul Rauf Ibrahim. Didi was also part of the bench that oversaw the controversial trials of Nasheed and Nazim.

The Hight Court is expected to schedule at least one more hearing before issuing a ruling.

MP Faris was charged with bribery under section 510(b) of the penal code, a class three felony offence that carries a jail term of more than three years. He will lose his seat if found guilty.

The MP has now spent more than 100 days in jail. On October 21, he was taken back to the high-security Maafushi prison after ten days under house arrest.

Faris is also on trial for identity fraud over the use of the flag and logo of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives at a joint opposition press conference in March.

He was arrested in July in the midst of a series of attempts to impeach Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed after his father joined forces with the opposition.