Former President’s Member on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) Aishath Velezinee has written a book extensively documenting the watchdog body’s undermining of judicial independence, and complicity in sabotaging the separation of powers.
Over 80 pages, backed up with documents, evidence and letters, The Failed Silent Coup: in Defeat They Reached for the Gun recounts the experience of the outspoken whistleblower as she attempted to stop the commission from re-appointing unqualified and ethically-suspect judges loyal to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, after it dismissed the professional and ethical standards demanded by Article 285 of the constitution as “symbolic”.
That moment at the conclusion of the constitutional interim period marked the collapse of the new constitution and resulted in the appointment of a illegitimate judiciary, Velezinee contends, and set in motion a chain of events that ultimately led to President Mohamed Nasheed’s arrest of Chief Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed two years later.
Nasheed resigned on February 7 after mutinying police and military officers joined forces with opposition demonstrators, who had been accusing Nasheed of interfering with the ‘independent’ judiciary in his arrest of the judge, and demanding not to be given ‘unlawful orders’.
The Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report found that there was no evidence to support Nasheed’s claim that he was ousted in a coup d’état, and that his resignation was under duress and the events of the day were self-inflicted.
“The inquiry is based on a false premise, the assumption that Abdulla Mohamed is a constitutionally appointed judge, which is a political creation and ignores all evidence refuting this,” Velezinee stated.
“Judge Abdulla Mohamed is at the centre of this story. I believe it is the State’s duty to remove him from the judiciary. He may have the legal knowledge required of a judge; but, as the State knows full well, he has failed to reach the ethical standards equally essential for a seat on the bench.
“A judge without ethics is a judge open to influence. Such a figure on the bench obstructs justice, and taints the judiciary. These are the reasons why the Constitution links a judge’s professional qualifications with his or her moral standards,” she states.
The JSC itself had investigated Abdulla Mohamed but stopped short of releasing a report into his ethical misconduct after the Civil Court awarded the judge an injunction against his further investigation by the judicial watchdog.
“There is no legal way in which the Civil Court can rule that the Judicial Service Commission cannot take action against Abdulla Mohamed. This decision says judges are above even the Constitution. Where, with what protection, does that leave the people?” Velezinee asks.
“The Judicial Service Commission bears the responsibility for removing Abdulla Mohamed from the bench. Stories about him have circulated in the media and among the general public since 2009, but the Commission took no notice. It was blind to Abdulla Mohamed’s frequent forays outside of the ethical standards required of a judge. It ignored his politically charged rulings and media appearances.
“Abdulla Mohamed is a man who had a criminal conviction even when he was first appointed to the bench during President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s time. Several complaints of alleged judicial misconduct are pending against him. The Judicial Service Commission has ignored them all. What it did, instead, is grant him tenure – a lifetime on the bench for a man such as Abdulla Mohamed. In doing so, the Judicial Service Commission clearly failed to carry out its constitutional responsibilities. It violated the Constitution and rendered it powerless. Where do we go from there?”
Parliament, Velezinee states, was the body responsible for holding the JSC accountable.
“The Majlis knew the threat Abdulla Mohamed posed to national security and social harmony. The Majlis was also aware of the Judicial Service Commission’s failure to carry out its constitutional responsibilities and its efforts to nullify constitutional requirements.
“Concern had been shared with the Majlis that the Judicial Service Commission had committed the ultimate betrayal and hijacked judicial independence. The Majlis failed its Constitutional responsibility to hold the Judicial Service Commission accountable for any of these actions. The Majlis had violated the Constitution and rendered it powerless. Where to from there?”
Ultimate responsibility for upholding the constitution fell to the President, Velezinee states.
“Democratic governance can only function if the entire system is working as an integral whole; it is impossible if the three separated powers are failing in their respective duties.
“Under the circumstances – once it was clear that Abdulla Mohamed was an obstruction to justice and a threat to national security, and once it became apparent that neither the Judicial Service Commission nor the Parliament was willing to hold him accountable – the only authority left to take control of the situation was the Head of State.”
With the return to power of Gayoom’s autocratic government behind President Mohamed Waheed’s “fig leaf of legitimacy”, the judiciary continued to be subject to influence, Velezinee writes.
“The judiciary we have today is under the control of a few,” she wrote.
“This was an end reached by using the Judicial Service Commission as a means. Most members of the Judicial Service Commission betrayed the Constitution, the country, and the people. They broke their oath. There is no room for free and fair hearings. And most judges do not even know how to hold such a hearing.”
“For democracy and rule of law to be established in the Maldives, and for the right to govern themselves to be returned to the people, they must have an elected leader. And the judiciary, currently being held hostage, must be freed.
“Article 285 of the Constitution must be fully upheld, judges reappointed, and an independent judiciary established,” she concludes.