JSC asks High Court to expedite case concerning legitimacy of bench in Nasheed trial

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has requested the court expedite the case filed by the defense counsel of former President Mohamed Nasheed, challenging the legitimacy of the three-member bench appointed to his case.

The JSC made the request in a letter sent to the court last week. Lawyers representing the JSC previously requested the High Court dismiss the case, contending that the High Court did not have the jurisdiction to preside on the matter.

The JSC appointed the three member panel consisting of Judges Shujau Usman, Abdul Nasir Abdul Raheem and Hussain Mazeed to hear the former president Nasheed’s criminal trial – concerning criminal charges levied against him over the controversial detention Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

However, following the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Hulhumale-based court was legitimate and could operate as a court of law – dismissing Nasheed’s contention that court was formed extra-legally – the former president’s legal team subsequently filed a case at High Court contesting the legitimacy of the bench appointed to hear the case.

Upon accepting the case, the High Court issued a stay order on Hulhumale Magistrate Court to suspend all criminal trials concerning the arrest of the judge, pending a ruling on the legitimacy of the court bench.

Speaking to local media on Monday, JSC Media Official Hassan Zaheen said the commission sent the letter last week.

“We are the respondents of the case and in that capacity, we requested the High Court to speed up the case,” Zaheen told local newspaper Haveeru.

Zaheen claimed the request made to the High Court was “not a new practice” and that the commission had previously made similar requests.

Meanwhile Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has alleged that the JSC sent the letter to High Court in a bid to influence the outcome of the trial.

In a press statement released by the party, the MDP claimed the JSC had instructed the court to immediately make a ruling on the matter.

“If the JSC, as the respondent in the case, felt the case was being delayed, there is nothing wrong in asking the court to expedite the case. However, the MDP believes this is an attempt to influence the outcome of the case, as the JSC is sending its legal arguments in writing rather than speaking about them in the court room,” read the statement.

The MDP condemned the decision and alleged that the state’s judicial watch-dog was acting beyond its constitutional mandate.

The JSC has come under heavy scrutiny over its appointment of the panel of the judges – 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.

“Moosa Naseem (from the Hulhumale’ Court) initially submitted names of three magistrates, including himself. This means that he had taken responsibility for overseeing this case. Now once a judge assumes responsibility for a case, the JSC does not have the power to remove him from the case,” Sheikh Rahman explained. “However, the JSC did remove him from the case, and appointed three other magistrates of their choice.”

Sheikh Rahman stated that the commission had referred to Articles 48 to 51 of the Judge’s Act as justification.

“But then I note here that the JSC breached Article 48 itself. They did not gather any information as per this article. They stated that it was due to the large amount of paperwork that needs to be researched that they are appointing a panel. However, this is not reason enough to appoint a bench,” he said.

Meanwhile, 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. “However, whether it is within the commission’s mandate to appoint a panel of judges in this manner is an issue which raised doubt in the minds of more than one of my fellow members,”

Other critics of the JSC include United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, who also argued that the appointment of the judges bench 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.

Speaking to Minivan News previously, Kirsty Brimelow QC, one of three UK-based experts on former President Nasheed’s legal team, contended that the prosecution of his case before the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court fell “below international standards for fair trial procedure”.

JSC Media Official Hassan Zaheen was not responding to calls at time of press.