Judges in the Maldives were reappointed by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) at the conclusion of the interim period “in conflict with the constitution”, President Mohamed Nasheed has said during his weekly radio address.
The JSC reappointed the vast majority of sitting judges prior to parliament approving a statute establishing the criteria for serving on the bench, Nasheed said.
The consequence – a judiciary almost identical as the one appointed by the former Ministry of Justice under the previous government, but badged as independent – was “a huge challenge” for the Maldives, he added.
Prior to the reappointments, the President’s Office in May 2010 sent a letter to the JSC expressing concern that a large number of judges lacked both the educational qualifications and ethical conduct required of judges in a democracy.
“While the Act relating to Judges was passed in August 2010, and while the Constitution is very clear that Judges cannot be appointed without this Act, to date the JSC has failed to reappoint Judges,” Nasheed said.
“The Supreme Court Judges were appointed in accordance with the Constitution and law. The High Court bench was appointed in accordance with the Constitution and law. However, it is hard to say that the lower court Judges were appointed as per the Constitution and law,” he contended.
The government has faced critcism from the opposition and weeks of opposition-led protests, some of them violent, after the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) took Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, into custody on January 16.
The government had accused the chief judge of endemic corruption, obstructing police investigations and of links with both the opposition and organised crime. Abdulla Mohamed sought a High Court ruling to prevent his arrest – which was granted – leading police to request the MNDF to take the judge into custody.
The judge was previously under investigation by the JSC – the judicial watchdog body – however he was granted an injunction by the Civil Court which ordere the JSC to halt the investigation.
In his radio address, Nasheed identified four areas of reform under the 2008 constitution: change of regime through multiparty elections, election of a new parliament, introduction of decentralised administration, and election of local councils.
“The major remaining reform envisioned by the Constitution is the establishment of an independent and competent judiciary,” Nasheed said.
The Foreign Ministry has requested a senior international legal delegation from the United Nations Human Rights Commission (OHCHR) to help resolve the current judicial crisis.
Last week, former President’s member on the JSC, Aishath Velezinee, told Minivan News that outside help from an independent and authoritative body such as the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) was desperately needed.
“We need the ICJ to be involved – someone like [former] UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Leandro Despouy. He was here for a fact-finding mission and had a thorough understanding of it, and gives authoritative advice,” she said.
“We need to look for people who understand not only the law in the constitution, but what we are transiting from. Because that is really important. The UN had brought in a former Australian Supreme Court Judge, but he didn’t get any support. There was a lady [from Harvard] but she left in tears as well. There was no support – the JSC voted not to even give her a living allowance. They are unwelcoming to knowledge – to everyone. It is a closed place,” she warned, adding the difficulty was enhanced further because all the documentation was in Dhivehi.
UK MP for Salisbury, John Glen, has meanwhile urged UK Parliament to “urgently make time for a debate on judicial reform in the Republic of the Maldives.”
“Although the judiciary is constitutionally independent, sitting judges are underqualified, often corrupt and hostile to the democratically elected regime,” Glen stated.
Leader of the House of Commons, George Young, responded that Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Alistair Burt, was “in touch with the Maldives President to see whether we can resolve the impasse. The high commission in Colombo is also engaged. We want to help the Maldives to make progress towards democratic reform in the direction that John Glen outlines.”
Several hundred opposition protesters meanwhile gathered last night for the second week running, with police arresting several dozen people and deploying pepper spray after the crowd reportedly began hurling paving stones at officers outside the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) building.
MP Ahmed Nihan of former President Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and recently-resigned SAARC Secretary General Dhiyana Saeed were among those detained by police. Haveeru reported that 17 of the 22 arrested were detained in Dhoonidhoo custodial overnight.