The three judges presiding over the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed have boycotted a second summons by parliament’s Government Oversight Committee.
This is the second occasion where the judges from Hulhumale Magistrate Court have refused to be present at the committee, with the first summons ignored on October 9, the day the first hearings of Nasheed’s trial took place.
Local media reported that the committee meeting was held behind closed doors, after the judges informed parliament that their “last minute” decision to boycott the hearing was due to “administrative reasons”.
The committee’s decision to summon the judges to parliament has led to criticism from both the Supreme Court and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), with both claiming that holding judges accountable was the sole responsibility of the JSC.
Meanwhile, political parties aligned to the current government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan claimed that the decision by the committee – in which the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has a majority – was an attempt to influence Nasheed’s trial. Nasheed’s party maintains that the charges against him are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent him from contesting the next election, through the use of judges originally appointed by, and still loyal to, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The party also contests the legitimacy of this particular magistrate court.
“Cat and mouse”
Following today’s second snub by the judges, the MDPs Deputy Parliamentary Group (PG) Leader MP Ali Waheed condemned their decision.
He went on to describe the actions of the judges and the JSC as well as the Supreme Court’s encouragement of their behaviour as a “cat and mouse” game played by the judiciary.
“What we are witnessing is a ‘cat and mouse’ or a ‘hide and seek’ game being played between parliament and judiciary. If that is the case, we are going to play the cat and mouse chase, because we are not going to step back from our responsibilities,” he said.
Speaking in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, the Thoddu Constitutency MP said the committee was not summoning the judges “to settle scores or for a personal vendetta or to destroy their reputations”, but within the course of executing their legal duties.
“As the chair of Parliament’s Government Oversight Committee, I shall continue to execute my duties and we believe the constitution allows us to summon anyone with regard to our concerns and we will do so. So I sincerely urge [the judges] to not hide behind a constitutional clause dictating the responsibilities of the judges,” Waheed said, maintaining that the committee’s intentions were sincere and that it was being very “respectful” and “patient”.
“These people are those who must lead by example [in upholding the law] but what we see is that neither the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Auditor General or even the parliament is being allowed to hold these people accountable. They can’t be above the law and should not even think they are,” he continued. “What we are repeatedly reassuring them is that we will not allow committee members to question them on matters not in their mandate.”
Meanwhile, Waheed’s fellow MDP parliamentarian Ahmed Hamza argued that the judges’ decision was in contrast to principles of rule of law, which were fundamental for a democratic state.
“In every democracy it is the people from whom the powers of the state are derived. The parliament represents the people, and their actions reflect the wish of the people, so all authorities must respect the decisions,” he said.
He reiterated that the current system of separation of powers in place is one that holds the three powers of the state accountable to each other through a system of checks and balances.
“The parliament will hold the government and the judiciary accountable and the judiciary has the power to invalidate legislation and regulations if they are in conflict with the constitution,” he added.
Hamza dismissed the claims made by pro-government parties that the committee was attempting to influence the ongoing trial of Nasheed.
“We are not trying to defend Nasheed, all we are trying to do is to carry out our duties and responsibilities vested in the constitution. We will not question them about any ongoing trial, nor will we comment on their verdicts and decisions,” Hamza added.
Quality of judiciary
Meanwhile, the current Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has also admitted that despite having some “bright minds” the overall “quality of services delivered by the judiciary remained disappointingly gloomy”.
“Our judiciary has some bright minds, but that does not exempt it from scrutiny; the judiciary in the Maldives, with the exception of few courts and judges, the judiciary as a whole has earned a deservedly bad reputation for its inconsistent judgments, lack of leadership, lack of competency and being out of touch with modern laws and views of the society,” he said in an article written for local newspaper Haveeru.
Former President’s Member on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Aishath Velezinee, in her book The Failed Silent Coup: in Defeat They Reached for the Gun claimed that the controversial transfer of power on February 7 signified the return of the previous politically controlled judiciary, which was to some extent held at bay during Nasheed’s three years.
“The judiciary we have today is under the control of a few,” she wrote.
“This was an end reached by using the Judicial Service Commission as a means. Most members of the Judicial Service Commission betrayed the Constitution, the country, and the people. They broke their oath. There is no room for free and fair hearings. And most judges do not even know how to hold such a hearing,” Velezinee wrote, arguing that the JSC was politically compromised and reappointed Gayoom’s bench at the conclusion of the constitutional interim period in 2010, despite the requirement that they be vetted for their ethical and professional quality.
“For democracy and rule of law to be established in the Maldives, and for the right to govern them to be returned to the people, they must have an elected leader. And the judiciary, currently being held hostage, must be freed. Article 285 of the Constitution must be fully upheld, judges reappointed, and an independent judiciary established,” she added.