The Supreme Court has hiked a fine for actions that constitute contempt of court from MVR10,000 (US$649) to MVR100,000 (US$6485), and authorized judges to suspend lawyers found guilty of contempt of court for up to six months.
The fine of MVR100,000 can be imposed for spoken or written words as well as deeds and gestures committed inside or outside a courtroom that portray the judiciary in a negative light, an utterance or action that demeans a court, a judge, or court officer, and for criticising or berating a court or a judge, or committing any act that causes loss of respect and dignity of a court or a judge, or attempting to bring the court into disrepute.
The amendments brought to the 2014 contempt of court regulations on Monday also removed a provision that authorised a sentence of up to six months in jail for disrupting ongoing hearings.
The six month jail sentence was authorised by the defunct 1968 penal code under a provision that criminalised “obstruction of duty.” The offence was removed from the new penal code, which came into force in July.
Disrupting a hearing includes non-compliance with judges’ orders, leaving the courtroom without permission, and the use of obscene language inside a courtroom. Instead of six months in jail, the new amendments authorize a fine up to MVR10,000 and a jail sentence up to one month.
The new amendments also state that threatening or assaulting judges and court officers must be punished by the harshest sentence in the new penal code. Assault, for instance, carries a maximum sentence of up to four years in jail.
Judges are required to conduct a trial for actions that constitute contempt of court committed outside the courtroom.
The new regulations also removed a provision that allowed judges to keep the accused detained until a trial on contempt of court concludes.
In issuing a sentence, judges are required to consider three factors: whether the accused had been warned, whether the accused had apologized, or whether the violation impedes the delivery of justice, defames the court or a judge, or incites hatred against the judicial system by undermining its credibility.
Other changes include a clause which stipulates that judges and employees can seek compensation for violations even if the penalty is reduced or commuted after a “written and sincere” apology.
An opposition activist, Anil Mufeed, was sentenced to six months in jail last year when he reportedly told a judge “Thank you for the reload” during a remand hearing. Reload refers to the practice of accepting bribes.
A headmaster who reportedly accused a magistrate of harassing his sister in a private text message was also hauled to court on contempt of court charges this week.
Additional writing and reporting by Mohamed Saif Fathih