MP Ibrahim Riza from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives has been removed as parliament’s representative on the Judicial Services Commission.
A no-confidence motion was passed Monday with 42 votes in favour, 24 votes against, and one abstention.
Speaking in his defence before the vote, Riza called the reasons cited for his dismissal “laughable” and defended his role as a JSC member for the past four years.
Riza, a practicing lawyer, insisted there was no legal obstacle to representing clients in court. He denied abusing his office or unduly influencing any probes by the judicial watchdog.
The MP for Guraidhoo also defended a legal fee of MVR2.9 million (US$188,000) paid by the Maldives Ports Limited, a case noted in the no-confidence motion filed by Maldivian Democratic Party MP Mohamed Nazim.
Riza said he saved the state ports company from a MVR42 million payout in the lawsuit over a tugboat.
During the debate on the no-confidence motion, opposition lawmakers accused Riza of complicity in politically motivated verdicts handed to President Abdulla Yameen’s opponents. Riza’s removal from the oversight body was a first step towards judicial reform, MDP MP Rozaina Adam suggested.
But MPs from the outgoing ruling party defended Riza’s integrity and competence. There were no valid grounds for his dismissal, they contended.
The composition of the judicial watchdog is expected to be among constitutional amendments considered by the incoming administration.
The JSC is comprised of three judges nominated by their peers from the Supreme Court, the High Court, and the trial courts as well as the attorney general, a presidential appointee, the chair of the civil service commission, the speaker of parliament, a lawmaker nominated by parliament, a member of the public chosen by parliament, and a lawyer elected by licensed practitioners.
The 10-member commission is tasked with investigating complaints against judges and taking disciplinary action.
Following a visit to the Maldives in 2013, Gabriella Knaul, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, reported near unanimous consensus that the composition of the JSC was “inadequate and politicised.”
“Because of this politicisation, the commission has allegedly been subjected to all sorts of external influence and has consequently been unable to function properly,” she wrote.
Knaul recommended the JSC should be composed entirely of judges. While some representation of the legal profession and academics could be advisable, no political representation should be permitted.
In January 2016, the Supreme Court seized some of the JSC’s powers, subjecting the transfer of judges to its approval.