The Maldives Supreme Court has formed a Multi Stakeholder Judicial Sector Law Reform Committee to review and amend judicial laws on Wednesday.
According to the Supreme Court, the committee aims to reform laws, regulations, procedures and practice rules “to pave the way for social, political, and economic changes as per the constitution, enable the judiciary to protect the democratic environment, and strengthen the criminal, civil, and juvenile justice systems.”
The committee is to consist of Supreme Court judges, the attorney general, minister of home affairs, minister of finance and treasury, prosecutor general and the commissioner of police. The Supreme Court will appoint a secretariat to facilitate the committee’s work.
Noting the difference between judicial reform and law reform, former judicial watchdog member Aishath Velezinee criticised the Supreme Court’s move as an “encroachment” on the powers of the People’s Majlis and said the results may “lead to injustice before justice.”
Although the Supreme Court may formulate regulations to improve service delivery and functioning of the court system, the apex court’s leadership role in compiling amendments to laws “is out of bounds,” she said.
The process is flawed as no one can challenge the Supreme Court’s authority, she continued.
Several documents—including the 2013 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul—have already made recommendations on judicial reform, she said, arguing that “forming a law reform committee does not match identified issues.”
Knaul’s comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary called for increased financial and human resources for the judiciary, establishing performance indicators to assess administration of justice and courts’ performances, human rights training for the judicial sector and creating an integrated system of case management.
She also called for the reinstatement of the Judicial Council tasked by the Judicature Act with administration of the judiciary. The Supreme Court had abolished the body in 2010 and taken over its powers, claiming the council was unconstitutional.
“Many interlocutors reported 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 centralizing administrative decisions in the hands of the Supreme Court,” the special rapporteur stated.
With the council’s abolishment, “the only platform for internal communication within the judiciary where difficulties, challenges, experiences and opinions could be exchanged, disappeared,” she added.
Velezinee claimed the new law reform committee is a further example of the Supreme Court using its “power of supremacy to hinder reform.”
She also criticised the “politicised” composition of the new committee due to the absence of independent state institutions on the committee. Although the prosecutor general is to sit on the committee, the position has been vacant since November 2013, she noted.
“If this is about human rights, why is the Human Rights Commission not involved?” she said.
Moreover, disgraced Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed’s involvement in the process “undermines its purposes,” she said.
Hameed has been implicated in a series of sex tapes publicised on social media in 2013, but the JSC has failed to take any action against the judge. Meanwhile, the prosecutor general has also filed corruption charges against Hameed for misuse of state funds.
The Supreme Court has justified the expansion of its influence over judicial administration by invoking Article 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.”