MALE (Reuters) - Maldives lawmakers voted on Monday to dismiss the Chief Justice and a Supreme Court judge - a move the government said was part of an overhaul of the judiciary, but the opposition branded an attack on the independence of the courts.
Lawmakers said they were acting on the recommendation of the parliament-appointed judicial watchdog which said this month that some of the top court’s judges had violated the constitution and “usurped the powers of parliament”.
There was no immediate comment from Chief Justice Ahmed Abdulla Didi, the judge, Adam Mohamed Abdulla, or their offices.
Amnesty International said in 2018 that it was concerned about the lack of judicial independence in the Indian Ocean nation, but did not immediately issue a statement about Monday’s vote.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih came to power in September 2018, promising to improve law enforcement and end what he called corruption in the country’s institutions.
Two months later, the Judicial Service Commission watchdog launched an investigation into senior judges.
Last month it said it had found 17 instances where the top court’s judges had “violated the constitution or usurped the powers of parliament of independent state institutions”.
Those violations, it said, included the suspension of dozens of lawyers after they called for judicial reforms and a ruling which stripped a dozen lawmakers of their seats after they joined the then opposition, now ruling party, in 2017.
Throughout the investigation, the Supreme Court and some of it judges have accused the watchdog of obstructing their business. The Judicial Service Commission said the Chief Justice’s office had received a copy of its report, but had returned it.
The chairman of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party, Hassan Latheef, said the vote was a milestone in its reform efforts. “I believe, we still do have enormous work to shape up a modern judiciary, “ he told Reuters.
Opposition lawmaker Adam Shareef said he accepted there were problems with the judicial system. “But we believe that the dismissal of the Chief Justice is against the spirit of the constitution,” he added.
“The current government with its huge majority is meddling in the judiciary,” he added.
A total of 69 mostly ruling party lawmakers voted to impeach the chief justice and the judge, MPs and officials said, more than the two-thirds majority needed in the 87-member house to push the motion through under the constitution.
Reporting by Mohamed Junayd in Male, Writing by Rupam Jain, Editing by Andrew Heavens