Legal status of penal code thrown into doubt

The new penal code is now in force despite parliament delaying its enforcement to July 16, the state human rights watchdog and prominent lawyers have contended .

A provision for postponing implementation of the new penal code was included in an amendment bill passed on April 12, a day before the new law was due to come into force.

The new penal code was ratified on April 13, 2014 with a one-year period for preparation.

The bill changed the date of enforcement from April 13 this year to July 16.

However, the bill stated that the amendments – including the provision for postponement – “will come into force starting from July 16, 2015.”

The provision for postponement was therefore inconsequential as it has not become law, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) and lawyers Maumoon Hameed and Shaheen Hameed argued.

By following the old penal code, Maumoon Hameed said the state is presently enforcing “a law that does not exist.”

The HRCM wrote to the attorney general and prosecutor general last week seeking clarification of the legal dispute, saying it is unclear which criminal law the police, prosecutors, and courts are presently following.

The commission said it was “extremely concerned” about resulting human rights violations in the investigative and judicial processes.

Prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin told Minivan News that “as a common rule the old penal code would be in force now”.

“I cannot say anything specifically about the issue until the office has responded to the HRCM’s letter. Also, it is not my role to criticise laws but rather uphold it,” he said.

Former Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz meanwhile dismissed the legal questions surrounding the penal code as an unjustifiably narrow approach in interpreting the law.

He said the “amendment makes it clear that the new penal code will come into effect starting July 16.”

“The amendment will also become part of the law. So the penal code now states the date it would come in to effect. We cannot simply single out one article and interpret the whole law. I think it’s quite clear,” he told Minivan News.

However, lawyers Maumoon Hameed and Shaheen Hameed insisted that the new penal code has replaced the old law.

There are presently no obstacles to enforcing the new penal code, Maumoon Hameed told Minivan News today.

“The new penal code states the old law would be dissolved when the latter law comes into effect. So I believe that the state is implementing a law that does not exist,” Hameed said.

Shaheen Hameed, former deputy speaker of parliament, also said he believes “the new penal code is in effect now”.

The current penal code was adopted in the 1960s and has been widely criticised as outdated, draconian and unsuited to the 2008 constitution.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party had said the postponement was a “politically motivated attempt to continue using the current penal code as a means to harass and intimidate the opposition.”

Under the new code, the punishment for protesters who do not have a criminal record will be less severe as judges are required to take mitigating factors into consideration under new sentencing procedures.

However, the ruling party said more time was needed to raise public awareness and address concerns of religious scholars.