Committee signs off on amendment to remove arrested judges

The parliamentary independent bodies' committee late Monday signed off on an amendment to the Judges Act primarily designed to remove the two Supreme Court judges arrested under the state of emergency over the alleged plot to overthrow the government.

The amendment submitted ruling party deputy leader and Fonadhoo lawmaker Abdul Raheem Abdulla was accepted by 36 votes earlier Monday amid the continued boycott by opposition lawmakers.

According to the amendment, judges convicted of a criminal offence would be automatically removed from office.

The amendment said a judge convicted of a criminal offence would be removed with immediate effect after the sentence. The amendment was also designed to bypass the constitutional article on removal of judges arguing that it does not relate to the conduct of judges.

The amendment said the judicial service commission (JSC) must suspend the judge with pay following his or her arrest. However, once the judge is formally charged he or she would cease to receive pay while he or she would be immediately removed from office if convicted.

The ruling party in its amendment has also limited the time for appeal. A convicted judge must file the first appeal within 10 days while first appellate court is given 30 days to arrive at a sentence. The same time frame has been afforded to the Supreme Court as the last stage of appeal.

"The reason for proposing such an amendment is to ensure such an incident does not occur and those responsible are held properly accountable for their actions," Abdul-Raheem said adding, "while the top court judges were in association of former presidents and others to overthrow the government we cannot take legal action against them under the current law."

The government controlled parliament is expected to pass the amendment during the sitting on Tuesday.

The amendment comes days after police had sought formal charges against chief justice Abdulla Saeed and top court judge Ali Hameed.

Police are also seeking charged against former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and chief judicial administrator Hassan Saeed.

The four remain in custody accused of a plot to overthrow the government.

Police however, are seeking charges against Gayoom along with the two top court judges for attempting to destroy evidence believed to be in connection to the alleged coup plot.

Police are seeking charges against the chief judicial administrator for refusing to come in for police questioning.

The island nation has been embroiled in fresh political turmoil after the Supreme Court on February 1 ordered the immediate release of jailed political leaders including self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on February 5 had declared a 15 day state of emergency after his last ditch attempt to convince the top court to revoke the order failed, purged the Supreme Court by arresting two judges and the remaining political leaders and ultimately had the order revoked.

As the state of emergency expired, president Yameen had got the parliament contentiously extend it by another 30 days.

President Yameen is facing mounting pressure even within the security forces after exploiting the rights suspended under emergency state to crackdown hard on the opposition as police have made a series of high profile arrests including former president Gayoom, three lawmakers, chief justice Abdulla Saeed, top court judge Ali Hameed and the chief judicial administrator.

Less than a day after the arrest of the two judges, the remaining three judges rescinded its ruling to release the political leaders referring to the concerns raised by president Yameen in the letters he had sent to the chief justice hours before state of emergency was declared.

The accusations against Gayoom included bribing lawmakers and judges to influence their authority while the deposed ruling party leader has also been accused of creating discord within the security forces to back the overthrow of his half-brother's government.

The two top court judges are accused of accepting bribes to influence Supreme Court rulings, abuse of power and blocking the functioning of the entire justice system.

In addition to Nasheed, the other top political leaders named in the now rescinded order included Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, former vice president Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor and Gayoom's lawmaker son Faris Maumoon.

Former prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin, magistrate Ahmed Nihan and Adheeb's uncle Hamid Ismail make up the rest of the list.