Member of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s legal team Hassan Latheef has expressed concern over the case filed against the Chief Judge of High Court, Ahmed Shareef.
The judges filed the case with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) over the High Court’s decision to issue a stay order on the Hulhumale Magistrate Court’s trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Nasheed’s legal team had appealed the decision by the Hulhumale Magistrate Court rejecting their request to delay the trial of the former President until the end of the presidential election on September 2013, in which Nasheed is contesting on behalf of opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The team also contested the legitimacy of the panel of the judges appointed to hear the case.
Nasheed is currently being tried in the Hulhumale Magistrate Court for his controversial detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed during the last days of his presidency.
Following the appeal, the High Court ordered the magistrate court to halt the former president’s trial until it determined the legitimacy of the panel of judges appointed to examine his case. The Hulhumale Magistrate Court subsequently suspended all trials concerning the arrest of judge.
Last Wednesday, eight judges of the High Court’s nine-member bench filed a case against Chief Judge of the High Court Ahmed Shareef at the JSC challenging the decision and claiming that the chief judge had issued the order arbitrarily.
A spokesperson from the JSC confirmed to Minivan News that the commission had received a “letter” from eight judges of High Court regarding Judge Shareef. However, he declined to provide any details of the case.
However, a High Court media official denied the allegations made by the judges, stating that the case concerning the stay order was registered at the court on Sunday and the former President’s legal team had paid the charges the next day. The media official added that the order was issued after the court had received the payment.
Speaking during an opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally held on Wednesday evening, Latheef – who was the minister for human resources, youth and sports during Nasheed’ presidency – argued that the decision by the Chief Judge of High Court regarding the stay order was made in accordance with the High Court’s normal procedures.
Latheef claimed that based on the documents published at the high court website, out of the 15 stay orders issued in 2012 by the High Court in 2012, 10 stay orders had been signed by just one High Court judge.
High Court judges who filed the case against Chief Judge Shareef claimed he had issued the stay order without registering the case, did not assign a case number to the case, and had not discussed the matter with the other judges.
They also claimed that usual practice at the court was to discuss the matter with other judges, although stay orders were ultimately issued by a single judge.
“The Hulhumale Magistrate Court which is hearing the case of President Nasheed was ordered to be suspended by High Court in according to its usual practice in such cases. The case was registered at the High Court and even before there were instances were stay orders had been issued that had only one signature,” Latheef said.
Latheef also dismissed the claims that the case had not been registered at the court.
“We filed the case on March 31. The stay order was issued the afternoon of the following day, after we had even paid the charges for filing the case in the court,” he contended.
The former minister said it was very concerning to see all the judges of High Court teaming up against the chief judge and taking the matter to the JSC following the decision.
The JSC is mandated with the oversight, appointment and discipline of judges, and was also responsible for both creating the Hulhumale Magistrate Court, and controversially appointing the panel of judges overseeing the Nasheed trial.
The JSC’s membership includes several of Nasheed’s direct political opponents, including rival presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim.
Latheef alleged that two out of the eight High Court Judges who had filed the case against the chief judge had also acted in a similar manner, but no complaint had been filed.
He also questioned the motive behind the filing of the case at the JSC – which is mandated with oversight of appointing judges and looking into their disciplinary issues – arguing that the JSC was the one of respondents in the appeal case.
Owing to the fact that the case of the chief judge is being looked into by the JSC who is a party to the case, Latheef cast doubt as to whether justice would be served in the court case.
“Another question is who will look into the case impartially – all the other judges have filed this case at the JSC against Chief Judge Shareef. Eight judges are on one side while the chief judge is on the other side. These are new issues which have come out of the case,” Latheef said.
He noted that this was the first time in Maldivian legal history where an entire panel of judges had teamed up against the chief judge following a decision on a case.
He also questioned as to why the High Court judges had not rebelled against an order issued by a single judge, invalidating a Civil Court order halting a police raid on the MDP protest camp in May 2012.
On May 31, 2012 the Civil Court ordered to halt to the dismantling of the Usfasgandu site by the security forces, after police had obtained a search warrant from the Criminal Court on the grounds that the MDP had been using the area as a hub for criminal activity and black magic.
However, the High Court the following day – which happened to be a Friday and not a government working day – overturned the Civil Court order. The order was similarly issued by a single High Court judge.
Latheef criticised the court’s inconsistency and alleged the courts were giving selective justice depending on who had filed the case.
The JSC has come under heavy scrutiny over its appointment of the panel of the judges to Hulhumale Magistrate Court to hear cases concerning arrest of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed – which several lawyers and members of JSC itself have claimed exceeded the JSC’s mandate.
Among the JSC’s critics include JSC member Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman – the member appointed from among the public. Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman previously claimed the JSC had arbitrarily appointed three magistrates from courts across the Maldives to Nasheed’s case after dismissing the three names first submitted to the commission by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.
Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid – who is also a member of the JSC – stated that he believed that the judicial watchdog had acted unconstitutionally in assigning magistrates to a particular case.
“In deciding upon the bench, the JSC did follow its rules of procedures. As in, it was voted upon in an official meeting and six of the seven members in attendance voted on the matter. The seventh member being the chair, does not vote in matters,” Shahid explained.
Other critics included United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, who also said the appointment was carried out arbitrarily.
“Being totally technical, it seems to me that the set-up, the appointment of judges to the case, has been set up in an arbitrary manner outside the parameters laid out in the laws,” Knaul said, responding to questions from media after delivering her statement in February.