The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has told the Civil Court it removed the former Chief Magistrate of Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, Ahmed Shareef, from the bench because of a previous conviction for having an affair.
In court for the third time this year facing allegations of unconstitutional behaviour, the JSC defended its decision to remove Shareef from the bench in August 2010 by providing the court with a detailed account of Shareef’s previous conviction dating back over a decade.
According to the records, Shareef was sentenced to two months under house arrest on July 30 2001, for having an affair. Shareef and the other person had been engaged in a “connection of love” prior to the case being brought to court in 1998, the records state.
The Criminal Court, which handled the case, was in possession of a photograph taken in Shareef’s house where the pair were alone on a bed. The sentencing judge said the court had determined the image depicted a sexual offence. Initial documents submitted to the court by the JSC to the labelled the other party in the affair as male, however the JSC has since claimed the party was female and that this was a typo.
As Shareef was a first time offender the judge suspended Shareef’s sentence for a period of three years. Which means, Shareef has argued, he did not fail the moral standards required of a judge by the Constitution as was wrongfully determined by the JSC.
Shareef is also alleging that there were a total of 37 judges, including himself, with previous convictions. The JSC removed only six of them from the bench, meaning that there are still 31 individuals with criminal convictions on the judiciary’s benches across the country.
In the Civil Court yesterday Shareef’s lawyer Ahmed Zaheen Adam said he is seeking from the JSC a list of all the judges currently on the bench who have criminal convictions to their name.
He also wants the JSC to furnish to the court details of the said convictions as well as the manner in which the JSC considered details of the offences prior to making the decision to allow them to remain on the bench.
According to papers filed by Shareef, the convicted offenders on the bench were – or are – involved in offences relating to misconduct, fraud, bribery and other crimes.
Shareef wants the JSC to explain the criteria it used to determine who should go and who should stay on the bench in what was intended to be the biggest clean-up in the history of the judiciary last August, required by the 2008 Constitution.
Shareef is alleging that the JSC did not, in fact, have a standardised and pre-determined methodology for deciding which judges were qualified to stay on the bench.
Similar to the allegations made recently against the JSC by two failed applicants to the High Court bench, Shareef has accused the JSC of allowing personal opinion and interest to influence its decisions regarding the fate of members of the judiciary.
Shareef alleges that the JSC paid scant regard to the Constitution or statutory law in dismissing him.
The Judges Act, he has argued, states that a member of the judiciary will be seen as failing to meet the required ethical and moral standards if they had served a sentence for a criminal offence in the seven years previous to his appointment.
Shareef’s conviction was 11 years old when he was removed from the bench on August 5, 2010, and his sentence had been suspended.
The Judges Act was being debated in the Majlis at the time of Shareef’s removal, and was passed five days later, on 10 August 2010.
The 2008 Constitution created and mandated the JSC with bringing the judiciary in line with its new standards designed to meet the values ascribed to by a functioning democracy within two years of the Constitution coming into affect. The deadline expired on 7 August 2010.
Had the passage of the Act taken less time in the Majlis, the JSC would have been in possession of detailed guidelines on if, how and when a member of the judiciary can be removed from the bench, the court heard.
Shareef alleges the JSC deliberately decided not to wait for the legislation to be passed by the Majlis and, in fact, expedited the dismissals to suit members’ own personal opinions and interests.
“Speaker of the Parliament Abdulla Shahid is a member of the JSC, and so is Dr Afraasheem Ali, another MP. How can the JSC in all honesty tell this court that it was unaware of the contents of the impending legislation?” Shareef’s lawyer Zaheen asked.
“It is a shame if lawmakers do not know the contents of their own laws,” Zaneen said.
The JSC pointed out that the Judges Act post-dates its decision to remove Shareef from the bench and argued that it cannot be expected to rely on legislation that did not exist. Nor can it be expected, it said, to pay heed to impending legislation.
Shareef is asking the court to reinstate him on the bench and to order the JSC to reimburse his “full salary and privileges” from August 2010 till now. He is also claiming to have suffered great emotional and financial distress as a result of the dismissal and is also seeking compensation for psychological damages.
The case will resume at the Civil Court within the next 10 days, on a date yet to be confirmed.
Correction: Documents provided by the JSC to the court mistakenly labelled the other party in the affair for which Magistrate Shareef was convicted as another male. The party was female and the JSC has since claimed this was a typo. Minivan has corrected the error for this story.