The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) last night reappointed 59 sitting judges, including all but two of the judges currently serving in Male’ courts, swearing them during a closed-door oath-taking ceremony in the Supreme Court.
Minivan News understands that three members of the 10 member JSC were present during the oath-taking ceremony, including two members who were taking the oath as sitting judges, and opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Afrasheem Ali.
A senior staff member of the JSC today told Minivan News he had been unaware the ceremony was taking place until he saw media reports, but said he felt there were “no legal issues” blocking the reappointments.
Meanwhile, President’s member of the Commission Aishath Velezinee, who has criticised the issuing of tenure to those judges appointed under the former administration as “robbing the nation of an honest judiciary”, claims she was locked outside the ceremony after attempting to intervene when she learned it was taking place.
Prior to being locked outside, Velezinee took to the podium and called on any judges who supported her position not to take the oath of office, however none did so.
“I don’t think the international community is going to accept that this is legitimate,” she said. “They locked members of the JSC out. The only ones present were Dr Afrasheem Ali and two judges on the commission, who took the oath themselves.”
People’s member on the Commission, Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman, also objected to the JSC’s action, stating in an interview with Television Maldives (TVM) that while he supported reappointing judges and training them to improve their standard, he did not endorse granting life tenure to judges who did not meet the requirements.
Head of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Supreme Court Justice Mujthaz Fahmy, answered his phone but did not respond to questions from Minivan News. His phone was subsequently switched off.
Parliament was due to debate a bill on judges in a special sitting of parliament on Saturday, to coincide with the constitutional deadline for reappointments of August 7.
Velezinee contends that parliament’s Independent Commissions Committee (ICC) did not issue an injunction against the reappointment pending investigation of her complaint that the JSC’s behaviour was contravening the Constitution, thus giving the JSC the opportunity to rush the appointments through before the passing of the bill.
Speaker Abdulla Shahid did not respond to calls today. But in a text message reportedly sent to Velezinee last night, Shahid expressed his “deep disappointment” that the event was organised without consulting him, and despite his request to Mujthaz Fahmy that the reappointments be held until Saturday after the bill on judges had been adopted.
According to the Constitution once tenured, judges can only be removed following allegations of gross misconduct and a two-thirds majority vote in parliament, the same number required to impeach the President or Vice President.
Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said the government “regretted” the JSC’s decision to reappoint judges behind closed doors while the Majlis was “actively discussing and debating a decision on the bill on judges for the 7th, and despite this being communicated to the JSC.”
Zuhair claimed that as a consequence the reappointments were “not credible at all to a large section of society – and the whole point of the exercise was to establish credibility.”
The activities of the JSC were “legally questionable” Zuhair added, “and the government intends to follow up on it. Today we have received complaints that the commission has contravened the Constitution.”
Zuhair observed that while two members opposed the move to rush the reappointments – Velezinee and Sheikh Shuaib – “a common thread ties all the other eight members. They either belong to the opposition DRP, or they are strong supporters.”
“The outgoing government has made sure it would retain control of institutions like the judiciary,” he noted.
Zuhair explained that while the government was communicating with international institutions on the issue, such as the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ), “so far we have been advised to do everything possible to keep to ‘norms and standards’. But that’s difficult when of the 197 judges, only 35 have any recognised qualifications. All the others have a local diploma.
“We can’t dismiss the other 150 judges, because that would only leave 35 to take care of the rest of the country. There has to be a middle ground,” Zuhair suggested.
The government was working on “attractive” overseas training and retirement packages for judges, he added.