The People’s Majlis has today amended the Judicature Act to reduce the seven-member Supreme Court bench to five judges.
The amendment proposed by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef passed with backing from the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and its ally Maldives Development Alliance (MDA).
46 MPs voted in favor and 19 MPs voted against the amendment.
The MDP had issued a three-line whip against the proposal with opposition leader and former President Mohamed Nasheed claiming the amendment would allow President Abdulla Yameen to stack the bench in his favor.
Shareef himself voted against the amendment.
MDP MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik – who has announced intentions to contest in the MDP’s 2018 presidential primary – voted for the amendment.
He previously described the formation of the current Supreme Court bench as a “shameful” political bargain between the MDP and then–opposition parties in 2010.
According to the amended Judicature Act, a Supreme Court judge can only be dismissed if the judicial watchdog body, the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), decides they are unsuitable for the position.
The JSC must then submit names of the judges to be dismissed within three days of the amendment’s enforcement.
Judges can only be dismissed by a two-third-majority vote of the Majlis. The amendment gives the Majlis a period of seven days to dismiss the judges. Judges who fail the vote will remain on the bench.
The PPM and MDA control a combined 48 seats in the 85-member house.
Three judges sit on the ten-member JSC. They are Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed, High Court Judge Abdulla Hameed and Superior Court Judge Mohamed Easa Fulhu.
The amendments also propose the establishment of two additional branches of the High Court in the northern and southern regions of the Maldives.
The two new branches can only adjudicate the rulings of the magistrate courts. The nine-member High Court is to be divided among the three branches with three judges in each branch.
The Supreme Court has recently been involved in numerous controversies both in and out of the court room.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court used a ‘suo moto’ proceeding – allowing the Court to act as both the plaintiff and the judge – against the Elections Comission (EC).
EC president Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz were subsequently charged with contempt of court and disobedience to order, being sentenced to six months in jail after the court used testimony given in the People’s Majlis independent commission’s oversight committee.
More recently, the court employed a similar ‘suo moto’ proceeding against the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) after it criticised the judiciary in its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for the UN Human Rights Council.
The court charged the HRCM with undermining the constitution and sovereignty of the Maldives by spreading lies about the judiciary. It said that the UPR submission– based on a 2013 report by the UN Special Rapporteur for Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul – was “poorly researched”, “irresponsible” and “dangerous”.
Knaul’s report had detailed the pressing need for judicial reform, noting that the five-member transitional Supreme Court had been replaced by a seven-member permanent bench in 2010 with “no legal or constitutional basis”.
June this year also saw Judge Ali Hameed – a sitting judge at the Supreme Court – cleared of a sex tape scandal after three recordings surfaced allegedly showing Ali Hameed engaging in sexual acts with three different woman.