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Supreme Court to rule on constitutionality of disputed laws

The Supreme Court concluded hearings Tuesday to decide whether it will hear the opposition’s challenge to the constitutionality of two controversial bills ratified last week.



The Supreme Court has concluded hearings on the constitutionality of two controversial bills ratified last week.

The opposition asked the court to nullify an anti-defection law and amendments brought to the Judges Act on the grounds that parliament voted without 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” but only 39 lawmakers attended the March 13 sitting.

President Abdulla Yameen, however, ratified both bills the next day. The anti-defection bill penalises floor crossing by stripping lawmakers of their seats whilst the Judges Act was revised to trigger removal from office if a judge is convicted of a criminal offence.

The opposition says the bills were pushed through to sack a dozen lawmakers and two detained Supreme Court justices.

The apex court conducted four preliminary hearings Sunday and Tuesday on whether to accept the constitutional challenge from the allied parties. Justice Ahmed Abdulla Didi, who presided from the reduced three-judge bench, said rulings will be delivered next but did not announce a date.

According to media reports, state attorneys maintained the legal changes do not require compliance by citizens and could be passed without 43 MPs, claiming they do not fit any of the six categories listed in parliament’s standing orders, such as criminal and tax laws.

Parliament can pass laws without a quorum during “a state of necessity” that arises when MPs deliberately refuse to attend, Masha Luthfy, state counsel at the Attorney General’s office, reportedly told the court.

But opposition lawyers said the laws require compliance by judges and MPs as both were citizens.

Lawyers Ibrahim Riffath and Safa Shareef argued further that new conditions for ousting judges and MPs cannot be imposed by laws and must be done by amending constitutional provisions on their removal.

Citing a Supreme Court precedent, Shareef also challenged the retroactive application of the anti-defection law, which was backdated to July 13 last year.

A dozen ex-Progressive Party of Maldives MPs were contentiously disqualified after the Supreme Court on July 13 ruled that MPs elected on political party tickets would lose their seat if they left their party, got expelled, or switched parties.

Their removal by the Elections Commission was used to wipe out a new opposition majority and protect the parliament speaker from impeachment.

But the Supreme Court overturned its anti-defection ruling in a unanimous decision on February 1, a shock move that saw Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed detained on charges of instigating a coup.

The three remaining justices delayed reinstatement of the 12 MPs but have yet to resolve their disputed removal.