The Parliament’s special committee reviewing the draft Penal Code Bill has announced the completion of the reviewing of the bill and has opened the bill for amendments from parliamentary floor.
In a statement (dhivehi) released by the parliament today (December 24) stated that commenting has been opened until next Thursday 4:00pm.
Furthermore, the statement added that the final report on the draft bill has now been sent to Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid upon completion of the committee reviewing stage.
The long awaited bill, first submitted in 2006 and later resubmitted in 2009, took almost seven years to surpass the committee stage.
The first draft of the bill had been prepared by the University of Pennsylvania Law School under the leadership of legal expert Professor Paul H. Robinson, upon the request of the Attorney general in January 2006. The project was also supported by the UNDP.
“The author’s review suggests that the Maldivian criminal justice system systematically fails to do justice and regularly does injustice, that the reforms needed are wide-ranging, and that without dramatic change the system and its public reputation are likely to deteriorate further,” Professor Robinson wrote in his summary conclusion.
The bill, upon ratification, will replace the country’s 52 year old penal law.
According to local newspaper Haveeru, members of the parliament’s special committee tasked with the reviewing of the bill had urged all members to consider the connection between sections of the bill before proposing any changes.
The parliament had previously consulted with all state authorities including the Attorney General’s Office, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) and the police during the committee stage of the bill.
According to local media reports, the Attorney General’s Office alone had proposed over thirty changes to the bill including a clause mandating that the new bill will come into force within six months of ratification.
The bill had also attracted severe criticism from religious sheikhs, most notably member of religiously conservative Adhaalath Party’s Sheikh Ilyas Hussain, who insisted that the bill would “destroy Islam” should it pass.
“If it is passed, there is no doubt that there will be no religion in this Muslim society that claims to be 100 percent Muslim. There will be no Islamic punishments,” the controversial sheikh said while delivering a sermon last March. “Refusing [to incorporate] a single Hadd [fixed punishments specifically mentioned in Quran] is destroying Islam,”
The fierce remarks made by Ilyas – who heads the Adhaalath Party’s scholars’ council and sits in the Fiqh Academy – prompted in a parliamentary inquiry where the sheikh was summoned to the committee.
Professor Robinson in the final report compiled that included the two new volumes of the penal code stated that a high priority had been given to ensure that the bill reflects Maldivian values instead of European, American or any other jurisdiction.
“The drafters have relied primarily on three sources. Of first importance are current Maldivian statutes. Where there is no applicable Maldivian statute, principles of Shari’a have been relied upon, especially those of the Shafi’i school,” read the report.
“Lastly, shared community values have been given deference, as reflected in the views expressed by the many Maldivian judges, prosecutors, private defense lawyers, government officials, and ordinary Maldivians we have met during our many discussions,” it added.
The new code will consist of three parts, the first part titled as the General Part contains all of the general provisions affecting liability and punishment. The second part known as the Special Part defines all offences and the third part contains the rules governing the sentences.
Among the major changes brought in the Draft Penal Code – which consists of more that 1,200 sections – includes grouping of offences into chapters based on the subject matter, modernisation of the existing offences and grading of the offences to reflect on the seriousness of the offences.
Previously speaking to local media, Chair of the Penal Code Review Committee MP Ahmed Hamza said the new code, if passed, would revolutionise the current Maldivian criminal justice system.
Hamza furthermore expressed hope that bill would be passed before the end of the current parliamentary session.