Maldives' jailed chief justice disqualified after top court rejects appeal

Maldives' jailed chief justice along with another apex court judge were automatically disqualified on Thursday after the country's Supreme Court rejected the final appeal of their conviction against the duo found guilty of abuse of power to influence lower court judges.

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 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.

Less than a day after the arrest of the two judges, the remaining three judges rescinded its ruling to release the political leaders referring to the concerns raised by president Yameen in the letters he had sent to the chief justice hours before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

Chief justice Abdulla Saeed along with top court judge Ali Hameed facing four separate charges which includes terrorism after being accused in the plot to overthrow the government were convicted of abuse of power to influence lower court judges and sentenced to one year, six months and one day in prison.

The criminal court had delivered a sentence four times the usual punishment for the charge which was nine months and 18 days saying that as judges of the apex court, the defendants had the foremost responsibility to ensure justice.

The High Court however, had reduced the sentence to one year, two months and 12 days.

After the judges had filed their final appeal of the criminal conviction, the Supreme Court on Thursday refused to accept the case saying that there were no grounds to overturn the first appellate court's verdict.

The rejection means that the two judges would be automatically removed from office in accordance with a recently ratified amendment to the judges Act if the Supreme Court also upholds the sentence.

According to the controversial amendment, 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 prison sentence came on top of the four months and 24 days given to chief justice Saeed who was also convicted of impeding the functioning of the state after he was found guilty of blocking the receipt of the letters sent by the president following the landmark Supreme Court order.