AG seeks to strengthen prohibitions on carrying of sharp weapons

Attorney General Mohamed Anil has today submitted to parliament a number of amendments to the act prohibiting carrying and threatening use of sharp weapons.

Speaking at a press conference held by the cabinet’s Social Council, Anil revealed that amendments included the narrowing of certain rights that the accused currently have.

Among these, the right to remain silent and the right to consult with legal representatives will be narrowed, while police will be given the right to hold suspects in custody for purposes of community safety until the court considers the case.

The proposed changes comes as the number of stabbing incidents in the country continues at an alarming rate, with 18-year old Ibrahim Shifaaz last week becoming the latest in a list of incidents that have resulted in three deaths this year.

Anil explained that the present law only stipulates penalties for the carrying of sharp weapons and for threatening individuals with the use of sharp weapons.

“Both the home minister and we at the AG office find it to be very concerning that the law does not describe penalties for damages caused by such actions, such as the taking of a life, loss of a limb, or other physical harm to the victims,” Anil stated.

“Currently, these crimes are tried under the existing old Penal Code, which has in it far too lenient penalties. Thus, the proposed amendments will include new penalties that can be given to perpetrators for commission of such an act.”

He described the newly proposed penalties as including 7 to 15 year jail sentences and even the death penalty, depending on the seriousness of the crime.

Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer prompted international concern when calling for an end to the country’s 60 year moratorium on the death penalty earlier this year, completing the required regulatory changes in April.

The new amendments also stipulate that crimes falling under this act should be investigated within 15 days of arrest, while the Criminal Court must complete the case within 30 days from its submission.

Anil also announced that three additional bills have been submitted to parliament. These are the goods and services tax bill, the construction bill, and the mutual legal assistance bill.

Earlier on October 15, Umar Naseer conducted meetings with pro-government parliamentarians about amendments to these same laws.

“Reactions from parliamentarians of both Jumhooree Party and Progressive Party of Maldives were positive to my recommendations,” Naseer said at the time.

At today’s press conference, Naseer also revealed that the government has plans to commence a MVR4 million  (US$260,000)  project to further develop the security of the prisons in the coming week following the recent escape of two convicted murderers last weekend – both since apprehended.

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Majlis passes Sexual Offenses, and Social Protection bills

The People’s Majlis has passed the Sexual Offense Bill and the Social Protection Bill ,sending them for ratification by the president.

The Sexual Offenses Bill was passed with a majority vote of 67 from 69 members who took part. The Social Protection Bill was was passed unanimously with 69 votes.

A third bill – the third amendment to the Employment Act – was also passed in the final sitting of the third session of the Majlis on 30 December 2013. The amendment was brought to chapter five of the act regarding the employment of foreigners.

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Majlis passes Right to Information Act

The People’s Majlis has unanimously voted to pass the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The act – first introduced to the Majlis in 2009 – was passed as presented by the Social Affairs Committee with minor amendments with the support of the 67 MPs.

Introducing the bill to the floor, the committee chair MP Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed said the committee had sought assistance from local media and international experts in revising the bill

The bill was first sent to the People’s Majlis in 2007 but was rejected. It was reintroduced to the current People’s Majlis in November 2009, and underwent a complete overhaul at the Social Affairs Committee.

Local NGO TransparencyMaldives (TM) which has advocated for the act for a long time described its passing as “an important step towards increasing transparency of the state institutions, ensuring greater accountability of public officials, and fighting corruption”.

“Transparency Maldives hopes that President Abdulla Yamin Abdul Gayoom will expedite the ratification of the bill.We call on all actors and institutions to provide their full support towards successfully implementing the law once ratified” said the organization in a press released issued today.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Transparency Maldives’ Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed said the act was one of the best legislation  passed by the Majlis.

Once the bill is ratified, subsidiary regulations will need to be passed, an Information Commissioner will need to be appointed and a support structure will need to be implemented, Aiman said.

If ratified the act will bring about major changes to the Maldives access to information regime. Although the current RTI regulation introduced in 2008 through an executive decree applies only to government offices, the new act will apply to all state funded institutions including the parliament, judiciary and independent institution.

Other key features of the act include the establishment of an information office in all state institutions, instituting a seven day period of response for information requests and a thirty day period to proved the information or reason for failure to do so.

An independent Information Commissioner will also be appointed by the parliament from names proposed by the president. Issues with acquiring information can be appealed to the Information Commissioner.

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DQP MP Riyaz submits bill proposing hanging as preferred method of execution

Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed has submitted a bill to parliament proposing executions be carried out by hanging people sentenced to death in court.

Riyaz told newspaper ‘Haveeru’ that he submitted the bill because the government’s version of the bill, drafted in December 2012, had yet to be submitted to parliament.

According to Riyaz’s bill, the trials of people accused of offences punishable by death under the penal code are to be conducted with a defence lawyer, even should the defendant refused.

The bill requires the lower courts to forward a case report to the High Court 14 days from the date the trial reaches a conclusion. The High Court is required to conduct a trial to determine whether the lower court’s ruling is lawful.

Should this decision be upheld, the matter must then be referred to the Supreme Court, which issue the final ruling on the case.

According to the bill, the defendant is given the opportunity to meet his family and say his last words before he is hanged.

The bill obliges the state to delay implementing death sentences if the person is a minor, pregnant woman, mentally ill or suffering from a disease.

In December last year, Attorney General Azima Shukoor drafted a bill outlining how the death sentence should be practiced in the Maldives, with lethal injection being identified as the state’s preferred method of capital punishment.

The government’s draft, which has yet to be submitted to parliament was criticised by religious groups in the Maldives, who argued that the state’s method of execution should be beheading or firing squad.

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Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) drafting bill for minimum wage, health insurance

The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) is drafting a bill to ensure journalists receive a minimum wage and health insurance.

MJA President Ahmed ‘Hirigaa’ Zahir told local media he expects Parliament to pass the bill, which would “ensure journalists can live without handouts”.

“We are saying that journalism is the fourth power of the nation. All other powers have security and everything else. Journalists are faced with grave threats. However, they don’t back down. Hence, such a bill is important,” Zahir said.

The MJA has previously worked to improve journalism in the Maldives, according to MJA Treasurer Adam Haleem.

“There are two institutions which parent the Maldives journalism. These are funded by the state budget. However, we could say that we work for perpetuity. We work without much of a budget. However, looking at the past two, four years, we have kept our eyes more open in media related areas. If a report is compiled by someone based on our work, I think that the work by MJA would take first place,” said Haleem.

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Parliament accepts extradition bill

Parliament today (April 16) accepted a government-sponsored bill that would allow for foreign prisoners to be extradited from the Maldives to their country of origin, local media has reported.

MP Riyaz Rasheed submitted the bill, which classifies the types of criminal offences that foreigners can be extradited for, as well as regulating the procedures for international prisoner transfers in the Maldives.

The bill states that only under special circumstances – after a request from the country of origin and a permit from the Prosecutor General (PG) – can a prisoner be extradited. Extradition requests can only be considered if the prisoner is to be tried and serve out their sentence(s) in their country of origin.

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PPM MP Ilham Ahmed stands by Commonwealth withdrawal bill

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ilham Ahmed has told local media that there has been no “consideration” to remove a bill from parliament to renounce the Maldives’ membership in the Commonwealth.

Ilham was reported in Haveeru yesterday as claiming that a parliamentary motion to leave the Commonwealth would not be retracted without first holding discussions with President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, the PPM and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP).

The bill was forwarded by Ilham and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed last month over allegations that the intergovernmental association was working to “protect the interests” of one party in the country without understanding the “reality” of February’s controversial transfer of power.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (GMAG) has increased pressure over the last few months on the Maldives government to revise the composition and mandate of an independent commission established to ascertain the nature and legitimacy of how President Waheed came to power on February 7.

During a visit to India this week President Waheed said he would not back proposals to withdraw from the Commonwealth, despite expressing disappointment with CMAG’s statements regarding the transfer of power.

Dr Waheed told media that he believed any bill to renounce membership in the intergovernmental organisation would be dismissed as soon as the Majlis returned from recess.

The bill to leave the Commonwealth has also been criticised by the leader of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Ahmed Thasmeen Ali .

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Amendment to open visa laws sent for further review

An amendment to the Immigration Act was sent to the National Security Committee for review with 56 votes in favour and 31 against.

The bill, presented by Hulhu-Henveiru MP Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik, would give foreign businessmen and investors in the Maldives easy access to resident visas. The amendment bill is part of the government’s 18-bill economic reform package.

The amendment would make visas available to foreigners married to Maldivians; legal guardians of children born in marriages including a Maldivian; investors; investors involved in government material and financial development projects; and foreigners providing technical service.

An amendment to the parliamentary rules of procedure to allow foreign heads of state and dignitaries to address parliament was meanwhile passed 59-2 at today’s sitting.

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Government submits bill to establish mercantile court

The government has introduced a Mercantile Court bill to the parliament with the purpose of establishing a separate court with a separate seal and special jurisdictions to solve disputes involving business transactions in the Maldives.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Musthafa submitted the bill to parliament on behalf of the government.

According to the bill, the Mercantile Court will consist of a Construction Division, Banking and Financial Division, Tourism Division, Investment Division, Goods and Services Division and Proprietary Division.

The bill also gives the Chief Judge of the Mercantile Court the powers to include any other divisions that the court finds that it lacks.

The bill will give the court jurisdiction to handle cases relating to business transactions concerning tourism, construction, international business, insurance, civil aviation, maritime, shipping, finance leasing, banking and finance, securities, fishing, company, partnership, professional liability and intellectual property rights.

The Mercantile Court will also handle contract, trade and service provision, consumer and service recipient protection in matters worth more than Rf 15 million (US$1 million).

According to the bill, the Mercantile Court has the jurisdiction to issue any sort of warrant or orders on its own initiative or upon a request made by a person to uphold justice or to prevent the judiciary from being misused.

The court’s bench will consist of seven judges, and significantly, a Muslim foreigner may be appointed as a judge at the court.

The bill comes following concerns aired recently by international organisations such as the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) that the existing Maldivian judiciary lacked the independence and capacity to rule in cases involving complex civil proceedings.

Speaking to Minivan News in March after several weeks observing the operation of the Maldives’ Judicial Services Commission (JSC), former Australian Supreme Court Justice Professor Murray Kellam said that an impartial judicial system was a key factor in encouraging foreign investment and could have a direct and significant impact on the economy.

This was something that Singapore recognised 15 years ago, he said.

“They understood the value of a civil system that is incorruptible and competent. They spent a lot of money on their judiciary and Transparency International now rates their civil legal system as one of the best in the world.

“Singapore realised that one of the best ways to attract investment was to have a system whereby international investors knew they would get a fair go in domestic courts. If you look at the circumstances in other parts of the world where investors have no confidence in the judiciary, that deters investment and takes it offshore. They’ll go somewhere else.

Citing Adam Smith, considered one of the founders of modern capitalism, Kellam observed that “Commerce and manufacturers can seldom flourish long in any state which does not enjoy a regular administration of justice, in which people do not feel themselves secure in possession of their property, in which the faith of contracts is not supported by law.”

As a foreign investor, Kellam said, “you want to know that contact you enter into with domestic partners will be understood and enforced by courts if there is a breach. You want courts to judge you impartially – you don’t want to be discriminated against because you are a foreigner.”

“Secondly, it’s no good getting judgement if no there is enforcement – which is a major factor in developing countries. Sure you can get a judgement, but it’s not worth the paper it’s written on because there is no process for getting it enforced, and you can’t turn judgements into anything productive.”

Singapore had recognised this, and become not only a hub for foreign investment but also a regional hub for commercial arbitration, Kellam said.

“People from around the region will use Singapore as a place of law and business,” Kellam observed.

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