The Supreme Court has formulated new regulations making it mandatory for judges and judicial employees to seek permission to attend overseas workshops, seminars, conferences, or training programmes.
Made public yesterday (May 20), the regulations (Dhivehi) require judges and staff to submit an “overseas travel permission” form to the Supreme Court for approval if expenses are provided from the judiciary’s budget or by a foreign party.
The regulations appear to lend credence to what critics regard as the increasing centralisation of judicial administration, with the potential effect of compromising independence and increasing tension within the system.
Should permission for overseas travel be granted, the regulations state that a second form providing details of expenses must be submitted to the Department of Judicial Administration, after which approval must also be sought from the Ministry of Finance and Treasury.
Moreover, a report must be submitted to the Supreme Court at the end of the trip.
The regulation also states that equal opportunity must be provided for judges and judicial employees to participate in overseas programmes while all expenses must be made in accordance with public finance rules.
The regulations, however, exempt overseas travel by judges and judicial employees for participation in workshops or seminars in their personal capacity, so long as expenses are not covered by the state.
“Centralising administrative decisions”
The Supreme Court stated that the rules were formulated under authority granted by articles 7, 141, and 156 of the constitution.
While Article 141(b) states that the Supreme Court “shall be the highest authority for the administration of justice in the Maldives,” Article 156 states, “The courts have the inherent power to protect and regulate their own process, in accordance with law and the interests of justice.”
Referring to the articles, the Supreme Court earlier this month introduced new regulations requiring the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) to function under its direct supervision.
The DJA – tasked with management of the courts – was formed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) in October 2008 to replace the Ministry of Justice following the adoption of the new constitution.
While the DJA was to function under the JSC, in December 2008 the Supreme Court brought the department under its control before the Judicature Act in 2010 transferred the DJA to the new Judicial Council.
The Judicial Council was subsequently abolished by the Supreme Court in late 2010, however, in a ruling that struck down the relevant articles of the Judicature Act.
The apex court’s move to cement control over judicial administration is in contravention to the constitutional concept of the independence of courts, former JSC member Aishath Velezinee told Minivan News earlier this month.
The new regulations were the culmination of a “systematic takeover” of the DJA, she contended, as the department “should stand as an independent institution solely facilitating administration of the courts.”
In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released last year, United Nations Special Rapporteur Gabriela Knaul wrote that “the dissolution of the Judicial Council and the direct control of the Supreme Court over the Department of Judicial Administration have had the effect of centralising administrative decisions in the hands of the Supreme Court.”
“This has undoubtedly contributed to the strong impression that lower courts are excluded from the administration of justice and decision-making processes,” the report stated.
Knaul also expressed concern with reports of the Supreme Court “not following due process in many of its decisions.”
“It is also troublesome that some of the Supreme Court’s interventions are perceived as arbitrary and as serving the judges’ own personal interests. Such misinterpretation of the independence of the judiciary needs to be urgently resolved both with regard to the public perception of the judiciary and the internal functioning of the justice system,” she advised.
“The Special Rapporteur heard several complaints about internal tensions in the judiciary, where lower courts are left with the feeling that the Supreme Court only works for its own interests, without taking into account the situation of other judges and magistrates.”