A ruling party lawmaker has proposed legal changes to trigger removal from office if a judge is convicted of a criminal offence, bypassing the parliamentary vote called for by the constitution.
A sitting judge can only be removed if the judicial watchdog finds he is guilty of gross incompetence or misconduct and submits a resolution to be passed by a two-thirds majority of parliament.
But MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla’s amendments to the Judges Act state the process will be inapplicable because dismissal due to a guilty verdict would not amount to “an action taken in relation to an ethical or disciplinary case.”
According to the bill – which was introduced to the parliament floor during a two-minute sitting Wednesday morning and is expected to be up for debate next Monday – a judge will be automatically removed once the verdict is upheld on appeal.
The guilty verdict must also be appealed within 10 days before the High Court, which must reach a judgment within 30 days. It also limits the final appeal stage at the Supreme Court to no more than 40 days.
The new legislation comes with two of the five Supreme Court justices under arrest on charges of plotting a coup.
President Abdulla Yameen says he was forced to declare a state of emergency to arrest Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed after a shock ruling on February 1 for the release of nine prisoners.
Invoking emergency powers, Yameen suspended a key provision of the Judges Act that protected judges from arrest unless a warrant is issued by a court from a higher tier. In the case of a Supreme Court justice, the prosecutor general was required to seek a warrant from the other four justices.
Abdul Raheem’s bill was introduced at today’s parliament sitting along with anti-defection legislation proposed by the ruling party parliamentary group leader. If passed, the new law would penalise floor crossing by stripping lawmakers of their seat.
However, with opposition lawmakers boycotting parliament, the ruling coalition presently lacks the constitutional quorum needed to pass laws. More than half the 85-member house must be present for voting on “any matter requiring compliance by citizens”.