The ruling party-dominated parliament approved Monday changes to the Prosecutor General’s Act to create a second deputy prosecutor general post.
The amendments proposed on behalf of the government by Progressive Party of Maldives MP Saud Hussain was passed with 50 votes in favour.
Some 18 opposition MPs voted against the amendment bill, which states that the PG can appoint more than one deputy “to assist in executing the powers and responsibilities of the Prosecutor General.”
The PG will retain authority to appoint and remove the deputies.
Justifying the proposed changes at yesterday’s sitting of parliament, Saud said: “In the instance there isn’t a Prosecutor General, the two deputies won’t face any impediment to pressing charges.”
In May 2014, the resignation of both the PG and his deputy brought the criminal justice system to a halt after prosecutors refused to appear at court.
But opposition MPs contended Monday that the purpose of the bill is to ensure that one of the deputies will do President Abdulla Yameen’s bidding if the PG refuses to unfairly prosecute a political opponent.
“Even now, if a person is not charged and prosecuted as President Yameen wants, the Prosecutor General will be dismissed. A Prosecutor General will not be appointed in this country after that. Then if one deputy refuses to press charges, the person will be prosecuted by the other deputy,” said Jumhooree Party MP Ali Hussain.
The parliament sacked former PG Muhthaz Muhsin last November over allegations of stalling bribery charges against former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, who was arrested on charges of “high treason” in October.
Muhsin was arrested in early February on charges of forging a warrant to arrest Yameen on corruption charges. The ex-chief prosecutor – who last year oversaw the prosecution of former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim – remains under police custody.
Muhsin has been charged with terrorism.
Mariyam Nihayath, a former civil court judge who resigned after the judicial watchdog suspended her for alleged breaches of the rules of conduct, was appointed deputy prosecutor general in January.
Home Minister Umar Naseer meanwhile announced this week that the government is planning further changes to the PG law to grant police the authority to prosecute petty crimes.
The proposed changes come at a time when the criminal court has been criticised for delays in concluding cases. The chief justice had ordered all courts to clear their backlogs last year.