The People’s Majlis voted Tuesday to postpone the enforcement of a landmark law on criminal procedures by an additional six months, with the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives contending that more time was needed to train law enforcement officers, prosecutor and judges.
The landmark Criminal Procedures Code, approved in April and set to come into force on January 7, will now be enacted in June next year.
Some 42 MPs voted for the delay, while 27 MPs said No.
The law outlines rules to investigate, prosecute and pass judgment on suspected criminal offenders, and limits the discretionary powers currently afforded to judges, police officers and prosecutors.
The long-awaited bill’s passage was hailed by the government as a “milestone” to strengthen the country’s criminal justice system, which came under fire for “grossly unfair” trials of high profile politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Condemning the delay, MP Imthiyaz Fahmy noted state institutions were given an eight-month period to become familiar with the law when it was passed in April.
The Maldivian Democratic Party lawmaker went on to highlight controversial sentences handed down to dissidents and opposition figures and contended that the government wanted more time to carry on its injustices.
“I believe the intention here is to gain more time to perpetrate injustice. The fact that an additional six month delay demonstrates that fair trial procedures have not been practised in the Maldives so far,” he said during a debate on the bill on Monday.
He highlighted the prosecution and sentencing of whistleblower Gasim Abdul Kareem, the jailing of former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim on a weapons smuggling sentence, and the arrest of social media activist Shamoon ‘Lucas’ Jaleel.
“All of these cases show injustice at every stage: from the investigation to the prosecution to a court verdict to [appeals stage] at the high court and supreme court,” he said.
MP Faisal Naseem of the Jumhooree Party said the postponement heightens the atmosphere of fear and anxiety prevailing in the Maldives.
However, MP Riyaz Rasheed, the deputy parliamentary group leader of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives, noted that the law contained 213 provisions and said judges needed more time for familiarisation.
He insisted that international criticism of the Maldivian judiciary was unfair
“It is Maldivians who will decide on our affairs, not white people. The purpose of delaying the enforcement of this law is to train judges, provide the correct information and instructions and make sure that they understand the provisions in this law,” he said.
A spokesman for the judiciary said judges are yet to be trained on the new law.
The enforcement of the Maldives’ new penal code, which replaced a 1968 law, had also faced similar delays.
In April, Ahmed Usham, deputy attorney general, said the law was “a key piece of legislation which will fill in the procedural gaps and vacuums in the Maldivian judicial system as it codifies all processes since the initiation of a criminal investigation until the serving of a sentence.”
He added: “Before the bill’s introduction, much of the criminal justice processes was at the discretion of those in positions of power,” resulting in inconsistent rulings and failure by state bodies to follow precedence.
The bill identifies terrorism, murder, manslaughter, causing grievous bodily harm, gang violence, terrorism, crimes against minors, drug trafficking, money laundering, corruption and human trafficking as major criminal offences.
It lays out specific rules for law enforcement agencies and the courts with suspects and convicts, from filing a complaint, to investigations, pressing charges, trial, conviction, request for clemency and filing an appeal.
The details include the process of waiving the right to legal counsel, and special investigative procedures for disabled people.
The code was originally drafted along with a new penal code in 2005 and submitted to the parliament under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration.
It was redrafted under former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration, and passed under President Abdulla Yameen’s regime.