Parliament returned for its final session of the year today after a month-long recess and passed the Judicature Bill in a bipartisan vote, a crucial piece of legislation for judicial reform.
The last sitting of parliament on August 30 was called off after MPs clashed over amendments proposed to the bill by the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) to both prevent the courts from conducting trials related to the activities of the former government and block retrials of controversial cases.
Parliamentary Group Leader of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) “Reeko” Moosa Manik told Minivan News at the time that MDP MPs protested because the DRP was attempting to “take the judiciary in their fist”.
However, in contrast to the acrimonious sitting of the last session, voting on amendments passed smoothly.
The Judicature Act was passed today with 50 votes in favour, four against and six abstentions.
As stipulated by chapter six of the constitution, the Act specifies the hierarchy and jurisdiction of the courts as well as standardized procedures for administration.
Once ratified, the Act will also create a Judicial Council to formulate regulations and procedures for trials.
The bill was proposed by the government in March this year.
Baarah MP Mohamed Shifaz, spokesperson for the MDP parliamentary group, told Minivan News today that he voted against the bill because he was “not satisfied” with some provisions.
Following extensive discussions, the two parties came to an agreement on the bill during the last session, Shifaz explained, but the DRP proposed “a lot of amendments at the last minute.”
Speaking to Minivan News at the time, DRP MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom, accused the MDP of scuttling the last sitting on August 30 when “it was not going the way MDP MPs wanted.”
“We have the right to propose amendments; all the things they are saying are excuses,’’ said Mausoom. “MDP MPs just do not like following the due procedure of the parliament.’’
Mausoom defended the amendments as intended to “broaden the bill and to frame it in such a way that the courts can perform their work best.”
The bill was voted through with all the amendments proposed by the main opposition and only one amendment proposed by an MDP MP.
On the final vote, Shifaz said that the MDP MPs were given a free whip “to vote with their conscience” as the matter was of national interest.
Among several issues with the final bill, Shifaz said that he objected to “a big gap” between courts in the capital Male’ and the atolls as islanders would have to come to Male’ for civil cases involving an amount in excess of Rf100,000 (US$7,782).
Moreover, he added, the Act would give excessive powers to the Judicial Services Commission, such as control of the Department of Judicial Administration, which would be renamed if the bill is ratified.
Point of order
Today’s sitting became heated during the preliminary debate on a bill on jails and parole proposed by the government when DRP MPs raised consecutive points of order to object to President Mohamed Nasheed’s refusal to ratify the amendments to the Public Finance Act more than a month after parliament voted to override a presidential veto.
According to article 91(b): “Any bill returned to the People’s Majlis for reconsideration shall be assented to by the president and published in the government gazette if the bill, after reconsideration, is passed without any amendments, by a majority of the total membership of the People’s Majlis.”
The objections of the DRP MPs were echoed by Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed and independents Ibrahim Muttalib and Ahmed Amir.
The MPs argued that passing any further legislation was “pointless” until the president ratified the amendments to the Public Finance Act, claiming that continuing sittings in the meantime was a serious procedural issue.
As the sitting grew heated, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim threatened to invoke his authority under the rules of procedure to call out the name of DRP Deputy Leader Ali Waheed and force him out of the chamber.
Addressing the points of order, Deputy Speaker Nazim said that the matter was “a constitutional issue” as article 91(b) did not specify the period in which the president had to ratify bills passed by parliament for a second time.
The minority opposition People’s Alliance MP suggested that a dispute between the executive and the legislature could only be resolved through the courts.
“I don’t believe that with the issue you are raising we could make any progress without passing through the stages of the legal process,” he said.