In a historic vote on Wednesday, parliament sacked Supreme Court Justice Abdulla Didi as recommended by the Judicial Service Commission over nine violations of ethical standards required of judges.
After a two-hour debate, 72 MPs voted for Didi’s dismissal.
According to the constitution, a judge can be removed if the JSC – a 10-member oversight body tasked with investigating complaints – finds that he is grossly incompetent or guilty of gross misconduct. A resolution submitted to the effect must be approved by a two-thirds majority of MPs present and voting.
With its landslide victory in April’s parliamentary elections, the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party won 65 seats in the 87-member house.
Didi’s dismissal comes after an investigation committee of the JSC conducted a public hearing and recommended his removal last month. After offering the legally-mandated 30-day period for Didi’s response to the committee report, the watchdog decided to recommend his dismissal to parliament at a meeting on Tuesday.
According to the committee report, police placed Didi under investigation in mid-June for alleged abuse of authority and taking money from individuals implicated in the theft of US$90 million from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation during the previous administration.
Chat logs and transcripts of messages exchanged between Didi and a key suspect – presumed to be former vice president Ahmed Adeeb – was shared with the commission. In one message sent in July 2015, Didi asked the suspect to arrange a job for his wife at the Maldives embassy in Malaysia. He also asked for US dollars ahead of a trip to Malaysia in July 2014.
But Didi categorically denied the allegations.
Shortly after the Maldives Independent journalist went missing in August 2014, Didi – who was a criminal court judge at the time – released two suspects on the orders of then-tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb. One of the suspects, Mohamed Suaid – who was arrested with security camera footage showing him tailing Rilwan – was allowed to leave the country in January 2015.
Didi was appointed to the Supreme Court in June 2018. He was previously promoted to the High Court weeks after he sentenced former president Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim in March 2015.
Nasheed, now the speaker of parliament, was absent from Wednesday’s impeachment vote as he was away on an official visit to attend the Ukulhas tech fair.
Former defence minister Nazim, now Jumhooree Party MP for Dhagethi, voted Yes. JP leader Gasim Ibrahim abstained and five opposition lawmakers did not vote.
On Sunday, MDP MPs called for the removal of all five Supreme Court justices as parliament debated a report about unconstitutional decisions by the top court. During Tuesday’s debate, ruling party lawmakers called Didi’s dismissal an important first step towards delivering the MDP and President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s pledge for judicial reform.
Didi is the first Supreme Court justice to be removed in line with the process laid out in the constitution. Four justices were previously removed through changes brought to laws.
Former chief justice Abdulla Saeed and justice Ali Hameed were sacked in June 2018 after controversial legal changes were pushed through to remove judges once a conviction is upheld by the Supreme Court, the final stage of appeal.
The new rule circumvented the parliamentary vote required by the constitution as the former ruling party lacked a two-thirds majority.
Former chief justice Ahmed Faiz and justice Muthasim Adnan were dismissed in December 2014. The pair was also sacked by parliament through changes that reduced the size of the Supreme Court bench from seven to five justices.
Last month, parliament reversed the changes and approved amendments to the Judicature Act to increase the size of the bench to seven justices.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has since nominated former judges Dr Azmiralda Zahir and Aisha Shujune Mohamed to serve as the first female Supreme Court justices of the Maldives.
Parliament is expected to confirm the nominees before breaking for a month-long recess on September 5.
In late June, parliament also dismissed a magistrate for the first time following a recommendation by the JSC.
The formerly inactive watchdog – which was accused of acting as a lobby group in defence of the judiciary – started probing complaints against top judges after its majority tilted when Speaker Nasheed and MDP MP Hisaan Hussain became members.
The attorney general, a presidential appointee, the president of the Civil Service Commission and a member of the public appointed by parliament also sit on the 10-member commission along with three judges and a lawyer elected by licensed practitioners.