The Independent Institutions Committee of Parliament met with the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) on Tuesday, where the JSC declined to answer any questions put forward by the committee on the grounds that the legality of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court was a case currently pending at the Supreme Court.
The JSC was summoned in relation to a motion submitted by three members of the committee, which stated that the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court was being operated and judges to the court had been appointed in contradiction to the law.
President of the JSC, Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed stated that the commission could not answer the questions put forward by the committee at the time.
“I would like to highlight Supreme Court’s temporary order No. 2010/SC-VA-J/2, released on 18th October 2010. Looking at the capacity and legal justifications of this order, on the fourth page of this order it says: ‘the judicial system established in the Maldives under the constitution is an independent judiciary system, and that Article 141 (d) of the constitution states it is an obligation of government institutions and all persons leading the government to protect the independence of the courts, and that Article 141(c) of the constitution states in clear language that neither an individual nor a government official should interfere with the work of judges from the independent judiciary or attempt to influence them. Therefore, since the parliament debating on an issue which is in the courts, one on which the courts have not yet made a ruling, can be considered to be an act under (c) of the previously mentioned article, I have told you the exact phrasing of the prior-mentioned order of the honourable court,’” Adam Mohamed said.
“If you take a look at Article 20 of the Judicature Act you will see (a) says, no, (b) says when it comes to a supreme court ruling, then the executive, members of the parliament, judicial power, persons in independent positions, state institutions, persons in positions of the state, and then it goes on to name many categories…So I am thinking that while our constitutional system is detailed in this manner, and specifically in a similar matter, since an institution with the constitutional power to make a legal decision on the kind of matter put before us has previously issued this order that we can see in black and white, what more is there for us to say on this issue?”
However, Chair of the Independent Institutions Committee, independent MP Mohamed Nasheed denounced the justifications presented by the JSC.
“What you referred to was precisely an order released asking parliament to cease discussions on a specific case submitted following a disagreement between the government and the parliament on a certain issue which comes under the parliament regulations, believing that debate on the issue is something that must not be done,” Nasheed said, adding that opinions expressed in the order were not something that had to be followed.
Nasheed stated that the matter could be looked into by the committee until and unless the Supreme Court issued a halting order for the specific matter in question.
Regarding the JSC’s stand that a matter pending in court could not be discussed in the committee, Nasheed responded saying that the parliament regulations said otherwise.
“There is a ruling regarding this released by the Speaker of the Parliament following a point of order raised by a member during a parliament session. This ruling says that although the previous regulations of the parliament did not permit us to discuss ongoing cases, the current regulations do not have any such clause. I believe that ruling is in effect over the parliament, and over this committee.”
The chair of the committee and the president of JSC debated the matter for the duration of the meeting which lasted for almost an hour, and concluded with the JSC firmly refusing to respond to any questions about the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court as the matter was “currently under the jurisdiction of the highest court in the Maldives.”
Although the chair of the committee stated that the debate would be carried forward between himself and the commission’s president and that other commission members would be given the opportunity to speak should any of the questions be directed specifically to them, the parliament appointee to JSC Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Gasim Ibrahim interrupted with procedural points.
“You are acting against both the parliament regulations and the committee regulations,” Gasim alleged, stating that the JSC could not be summoned without giving notice of 14 days as it included cabinet members.
The continued interruption led to chaos in the meeting, where attendees from both sides hurled verbal attacks at each other, and the chair decided to go into a 10 minute recess.
Following the recess, Nasheed responded that the 14 day notice and provision of the exact questions to be asked were applicable only in cases where a cabinet minister was summoned to a committee on the request of an individual MP to be held answerable to a specific question. He stated that it did not apply in the case of the meeting in process as the committee held the oversight mandate over the JSC and could summon them when they saw it necessary. He also added that the JSC had attended the committee meetings previous under the very same circumstances.
“In yesterday’s committee meeting, we had a unanimous vote to summon your commission here. It wasn’t part of the initial issue. As you know, we have also written to your committee requesting necessary documents,” Nasheed continued, asking “What was your intention in coming here in relation to this issue if you are now going to refuse to answer our questions?”
Adam Mohamed replied that the JSC had received a letter requesting attendance a day ahead, but that the letter had held nothing by way of explaining the purposes of the summons.
Nasheed, however, claimed that the secretary general of the commission had later on clarified the matter from the parliament’s administration and that therefore the committee refused to accept the excuse.
Gasim, who continued to speak loudly throughout the latter half of the meeting claimed that the parliament committee was attempting to project its own failings onto the commission, adding that “you can’t do as you please in here, this is not your home” and “don’t try to act smart”.
When Nasheed requested the JSC president to “control” the commission’s members, Gasim again responded “How is it even possible for him to do that?”, prompting laughter and applause.
No questions concerning the issue on agenda were posed during the approximately hour long meeting.
The meeting was finally ruled closed after the JSC repeatedly insisted that they found it “rather difficult” to answer questions regarding the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court while the case was currently filed in the Supreme Court.
Members of the JSC are Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed, Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid, High Court Judge Abdulla Hameed, Lower Court Judge Abdulla Didi, Parliament member Gasim Ibrahim, Public member Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman, President’s Appointee Mohamed Saleem, Civil Service Commission’s President Mohamed Fahmy, Attorney General Azima Shakoor and lawyer Ahmed Rasheed.
A meeting of the Independent Commissions Committee had been disrupted last week, following disagreements regarding the summoning of JSC.
Meanwhile, earlier in the week Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain has criticised the JSC, calling it inept and stating that many of the challenges faced by the judiciary would have been resolved if the JSC had undertaken its responsibilities “properly”.
Former President’s Appointee to the JSC, Aishath Velezinee has consistently raised questions about the work of the JSC, alleging that much of its actions were against the constitution, as well as criticised the oversight committee for failing to holding the JSC accountable.