Four of the five lawyers competing in an upcoming poll to elect a lawyer to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) have threatened a boycott after judicial interference.
Lawyers Hussein Shameem, Mohamed Fareed, Anas Abdul Sattar, and Mohamed Faisal expressed concern over reports the Supreme Court may allow judges in magistrate courts in the islands to vote via fax on July 13 – a move, which would violate the secrecy of the ballot.
The attorney general had initially compiled regulations barring judges who have lawyer permits from voting to elect a representative from the lawyer community.
But the Supreme Court on June 23 ruled that all licensed lawyers, including judges and MPs, would be eligible to vote in polls.
Lawyers have said the decision allows judges undue influence in electing a representative from the legal community, pointing out judges already have three representatives on the ten-member commission.
AG Mohamed Anil then extended the initial deadline for candidates to submit applications from June 24 to June 30.
Subsequently, a public relations staff member at the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA), Latheefa Qasim, applied for the position. Latheefa worked at the DJA until she was appointed as President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s representative to the ten-member commission.
Latheefa was replaced when new President Abdulla Yameen took oath of office in November 2013.
The four candidates have said Latheefa appears to be backed by the judiciary.
“There is a conflict of interest when an individual employed with the judiciary to improve its image is running for an oversight body,” Shameem said.
Fareed said Latheefa running in the election is like disgraced Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed standing for the position.
Meanwhile, both Anas and Faisal have raised questions over Latheefa’s eligibility, noting JSC regulations state no JSC member can run for consecutive terms.
Faisal said he believed Latheefa had completed a term as she had sat in the commission as a presidential appointee in the current term.
If Latheefa is eligible to run, any current member could resign now, and run again claiming they have not completed a full term, he said.
“There is doubt over whether Latheefa Qasim is standing on her own initiative or is being fielded by other interests. I say this because she submitted her application after the Supreme Court ruling, when the deadline was extended,” he added.
Latheefa was not responding to calls despite repeated attempts at the time of press.
All four candidates insisted the criticisms were not a personal attack on Latheefa.
The four met last week and discussed whether to field a single candidate against Latheefa, but decided to run separately, claiming they still stand a fair chance of winning elections as long as the secrecy of the ballot is protected.
Polling booths are to be set up in Arabiyya School in Malé and in islands where more than five eligible voters are registered to vote. They are Haa Alif atoll Ihavandhoo, Haa Dhaal atoll Kulhudhuffushi, Thaa atoll Veymandoo, Laamu atoll Fonadhoo and Gaaf Alif atoll Villingili.
“There is no point of contesting elections if the secrecy of the ballot is affected. There are approximately 136 magistrates court judges – a number than can significantly change the election outcome. If there is a perceived judiciary backed candidate, they will be forced to vote for the candidate endorsed by the judiciary, if the secrecy of ballot is violated,” Faisal said.
Fareed said the four candidates are still ready to field a single candidate or boycott the election if necessary should the judiciary interfere in election procedures.
“We will not blindly obey the Supreme Court’s decisions,” Fareed said.