Religious Law

Maldives enacts criminal code based on draft by law prof and students


Maldives capital city Malé from above. Image from

The Maldives has adopted a new criminal code based on the work of University of Pennsylvania law professor Paul Robinson and a group of law and Ph.D. students.

The new penal code takes effect next year. It is the first modern, comprehensive penal code in the world to incorporate the major tenets and principles of Islamic law, according to a Penn Law press release. The Daily Pennsylvanian also has a story.

The Maldivian legislature adopted the code in April, though Robinson submitted the final report on code recommendations in 2006. “Criminal codes are an enormous task for a legislature,” Robinson said in the press release. “They always take years.”

When drafting the code, Robinson’s team looked to existing Maldivian case law, principles of Shariah, and community values as determined through interviews with judges and others.

The Maldivians wanted a criminal code that reflected their existing shared norms, but they also wanted to respect the demands of the Koran, Robinson tells the ABA Journal in the interview. When the two goals conflicted, Robinson’s team sought to match the current practice, while in some ways paying homage to the Koran’s demands.

Robinson offered the death penalty as an example. The code drafters looked at current Maldivian law, which permitted the death penalty though it had not been imposed for more than 50 years. Robinson’s team included the death penalty in the proposed code, but specified that it should be reserved “for the most egregious imaginable form of a purposeful killing of another person in the most cruel and heinous manner.”

The idea, Robinson told the ABA Journal, was to acknowledge the Islamic principle of proportionality, while drafting the provision in such a way that the death penalty would never be imposed. No matter what the crime, Robinson said, a more egregious case could always be imagined.

Robinson says he doesn’t know if the draft code was changed when adopted by the legislature.

A news report from Al Jazeera indicates that the country recently released new death-penalty regulations, leading to concerns it will be applied to youths as young as 7 years of age.

Robinson says there was no death-penalty age limit in the code because the drafters believed it would never be imposed.

A law review article explains other attempts by the drafters to recognize Shariah law while acknowledging international norms. Robinson’s team classified apostasy as a quasi-criminal offense, for example, but the offender must intend to insult Islam, must do so in a public way, and must insult the core tenets of Islam. Violation of the law is less serious than a misdemeanor, and prison is not a penalty.

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