Supreme Court undermining parliamentary independence, says Majlis committee

The Parliamentary Privileges Committee has on Sunday passed a motion submitted by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to void four articles in the Parliament’s Privileges Act.

Meanwhile, fellow MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor’s prosecution for failure to attend the Criminal Court was overturned in the High Court today. Hamid had claimed parliamentary privileges in his defence.

Fahmy’s motion states that while the Surpreme Court had on November 28, 2013, ruled void articles 3(b), 11(a), 13(c) and 16, the decision is one that contradicts constitutional stipulations and compromises the independence of the parliament.

In the motion, Fahmy proposed that the committee agree that the Supreme Court’s actions undermine the parliament and its members’ privileges and powers, and that by ruling to void said articles, the court has breached the constitutional stipulation that no power of the state attempts to exert influence over another.

He further asked the committee members to determine the matter as a serious concern which needs to be raised in the full parliament, while also being brought to the attention of other actors including agencies of the UN and Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU).

Fahmy proposed raising the matter with international actors and seeking assistance to protect the independence, privileges and powers of the parliament.

Speaking at the committee, Fahmy further alleged that the court was working to “undermine the power of the people despite our constitution stating that all powers of the state stem from the citizens”.

“We are seeing the Supreme Court as an entity working to blatantly oppose empowerment of the people. By voiding articles from acts passed by over-riding majorities from among the people’s representatives, they are blatantly challenging citizen empowerment. Every single sitting of the SC has become a threat to this country’s democratic process,” Fahmy said in Sunday’s committee meeting.

“A wide range of international actors have criticized this country’s judiciary and its apex court, including several UN agencies, UN Special Rapporteur Knaul, EU and various foreign governments. How I see it, the Supreme Court is the biggest threat to the country’s democratic process. I condemn the SC’s action and call on this committee and parliament to do all possible to stop such actions,” he continued.

“This is not a practice in democratic societies”: Fahmy

Speaking to Minivan News after the meeting, Fahmy further alleged that the court had made void articles other than those included in the Attorney General’s submission.

“A case can be submitted to the Supreme Court questioning whether a certain act, or an article of a particular act contradicts the constitution. However, one cannot submit, nor can the courts accept, a case questioning whether an act or an article of an act is granted as ‘absolute power’ or asking to clarify what it means,” he said.

“SC repealed clauses on their own initiative too, while the Attorney General has not even proposed to. This cannot happen and this is not a practice in democratic societies.”

“Perhaps they have learnt acts of this sort from countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt or others. Places where there is no democratic culture and where people are suffering from state sponsored injustices,” he said.

Fahmy himself was being tried for contempt of the Supreme Court for comments criticizing the body on television, though the MP’s defence has claimed the regulation in question expired in 2011.

MDP MP Hamid, who was taken to jail after the Criminal Court gave him a six month jail sentence for failure to attend court hearings, had his appeal case heard on Sunday.

A High Court bench of three judges overturned the Criminal Court sentence in Sunday’s appeal hearing.

Head Judge of the panel, Judge Yoosuf Hussain stated in court today that the Parliamentary Privileges Act at the time of sentencing still had a clause stating that MPs cannot be summoned to court in a manner that will inconvenience their attendance to parliament meetings.

Judge Hussain said that due to this reason, Hamid’s failure to attend hearings cannot be judged as having been without a justified reason.

He further stated that the lower court had failed to follow due process to be observed in the instance that a court summons cannot be delivered to a person, and if their families refuse to accept the summons on their behalf.

The judge said that as a result of this failure, the High Court does not believe the lower court had grounds to act against MP Hamid in this instance.