Attorney General’s Office postpones JSC lawyer election following Supreme Court order

The Attorney General’s (AG) Office has postponed an election for a lawyer to represent the legal community on the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) following a Supreme Court order.

The AG office announced the postponement on Thursday night (August 14) after the Supreme Court struck down section 11(a) of the regulations enacted for conducting the polls, which states that polling mechanisms would be established on inhabited islands with at least five registered voters.

The Supreme Court issued an order (Dhivehi) on Thursday afternoon annulling the clause and declared that all licensed lawyers eligible to vote in the elections – including magistrates of island courts – should be able to do so anywhere in the country without registering.

Following the apex court order, the AG office explained in a press statement that it has repealed the procedural regulations as the “essence” of the annulled clause was ensuring “secrecy of the ballot”, which could not be assured after it was struck down.

The election had been scheduled for August 21. The AG office said it would announce a new polling date later.

The election had previously been delayed after Gaaf Dhaal Fiyori Magistrate Abdul Razzak Mohamed filed a case at the Civil Court seeking annulment of section 11(a).

After issuing a stay order postponing the election pending a judgment, the Civil Court ruled in late July that annulling the requirement would violate the secrecy of the ballot.

Judge Ali Rasheed Hussain noted that allowing voting mechanisms on islands where only one lawyer casts a ballot would compromise secrecy.

Speaking to Minivan News at the time, former Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem – among the four candidates for the seat – welcomed the Civil Court verdict.

“The verdict yesterday proves the Fiyori magistrate had no case. He has caused an undue delay to the process. An election involves the rights of a group of people, not just one individual. I hope the courts consider this in the future and that there are no more delays,” he said.

In addition to Shameem, the other candidates are Anas Abdul Sattar, Mohamed Faisal, and Latheefa Qasim.

Lawyer Mohamed Fareed, however, withdrew his candidacy on July 10, expressing concern over judicial interference in the election following the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing all licensed lawyers, including sitting MPs and judges, to vote in the election.

“The belief that an election in the Maldives may proceed without Supreme Court interference is against the facts, reality. This is the reality now,” he said at a press conference.

Had voting mechanisms been set up on every island, magistrates would have been forced to vote for the judiciary-backed candidate Latheefa Qasim, he suggested.

Latheefa is a public relations staff at the Department of Judicial Administration and had served on the JSC for a year as former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s appointee to the commission.

Former Attorney General Husnu Suood meanwhile accused the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives of attempting to fix the composition of the new JSC.

Although he was skeptical of reform through the commission, Suood urged lawyers to back Shameem in order to ensure transparency within the JSC.

“If there is a single effective candidate, I believe they can give us information and work to make the JSC more transparent. There is a huge difference between one person being there and none being there,” he said.

In July, parliament voted for PPM MP Ibrahim Riza to represent the People’s Majlis on JSC.