JSC Chair asked to expedite Hulhumale’ Bench case without counsel of members: Sheikh Rahman

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC)’s request that the High Court expedite a case concerning the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court bench overhearing the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed is an attempt to unduly influence the court, JSC member Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman has stated.

“As I see it, a letter like this can only be sent after seeking counsel of commission members in a formal meeting,” Sheikh Rahman said, referring to the request sent by the JSC to the High Court on Sunday.

“However, I only heard about this letter in the media. The next day, I raised the issue at the commission’s meeting, and that is when they finally showed it to me,” he said.

“The letter was signed by the Vice Chair of the JSC [Criminal Court Judge] Abdulla Didi. Abdulla Didi would not send such a letter of his accord. I believe that what has happened here is that he has sent this letter under the orders of JSC Chair [Supreme Court Judge] Adam Mohamed,” he said.

Sheikh Rahman added that the JSC’s Chair was only granted authority to autonomously answer letters concerning administrative matters.

“This letter, however, is certainly not to do with an administrative issue, nor is it a response to a letter. They have taken the initiative and sent a letter to a court concerning an ongoing case, speaking of the case outside of court proceedings. There are already lawyers appointed for this. Such decisions must be made in commission meetings,” he stated.

“I believe that whoever advised for this letter to be sent has done so with the intention of influencing Nasheed’s case to be concluded in a particular way,” Sheikh Rahman declared.

“The JSC, even prior to the sending of this letter, is looking into a number of complaints against the Chief Judge of the High Court and some concerning him or other judges of that same court. The fact is that the JSC has the mandate to appoint or remove the High Court Chief Judge, therefore it is very likely going to exert pressure and influence when this oversight committee sends such a letter,” Sheikh Rahman explained.

The case in question is one filed by the defense counsel of former President Mohamed Nasheed, challenging the legitimacy of the three member bench appointed by the JSC to the case against him for the arbitrary detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

Nasheed and his party contend the case is a politically-motivated attempt to convict and prevent him contesting the presidential elections in September.

Lawyers representing the JSC previously requested the High Court dismiss the case, contending the court did not have the jurisdiction to preside on the matter.

Upon accepting the case, the High Court issued a stay order on Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court to suspend all criminal trials concerning the arrest of the judge, until a ruling on the legitimacy of the court’s bench is issued.

“Far more concerning cases”

Sheikh Rahman stated that there were other “far more concerning cases” pending in the country’s courts, which the JSC had not sought to expedite.

“There is a case concerning matters relating to the appointment of judges to the superior courts. The JSC has then appealed it at the Supreme Court. This case has been pending for over an year. Within this period, the JSC has sent only two letters regarding the matter,” Sheikh Rahman said.

“The appointment of judges to the superior courts is at a standstill until a verdict is reached on this case. This is a far more pressing matter.”

Not the first time such a letter is sent: JSC

JSC Media Official Hassan Zaheen initially declined from commenting on the issues raised by Sheikh Rahman.

“Shuaib is a member, right? Now when a member has said something, I do not know what to say with regard to that. As I have told media before, this is not the first time we have sent such a letter. I don’t know what has to be said.”

Approached for comments, JSC Vice Chair Abdulla Didi requested that Minivan News contact the JSC’s media official instead.

When informed that the media official had declined from commenting on the matter, Abdulla Didi stated that as media officer, Zaheen was mandated to respond to media.

“Just this week we decided in a commission meeting that Zaheen will answer all media queries regarding this matter, under the counsel of JSC Chair or myself. If he asks me for counsel, I will definitely not stop him from providing explanations. However, I am not the media person, so I do not want to comment on the matter to any media,” Didi said.

Under counsel from the Vice Chair, Zaheen later responded to Sheikh Rahman’s statements.

“I don’t know what Shuaib means by that. We [JSC] believe this is an administrative step taken in order to carry out our work in a more timely manner. The law says the chair, as the highest authority, can take administrative decisions,” he stated.

“It does not matter to us whether the case has to do with [former President Mohamed] Nasheed or whoever. As respondents, we have the right to make this request,” he continued.

“Remember the case of Abdulla Ghazi [Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed]? When there was a case concerning him in Civil Court, this commission sent a letter asking it to be expedited. Even that letter was sent as an administrative letter under the Chair’s orders, not after a decision made in a commission meeting,” Zaheen explained.

Regarding the allegation that the letter may have exerted undue influence, Zaheen replied, “I do not believe that any influence will be exerted. JSC will look into disciplinary measures of any judges, as it is our mandate. That does not mean that we can’t send a letter when a case concerning us in being tried in one of these courts. Who else will come to raise that point? If, as you all claim, there is a conflict of interest, then there are policies the JSC has shared with the judges on how they can abstain from such cases. I trust the judges will do so if need be.”

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“The JSC cannot form a court”: JSC Vice Chair Abdulla Didi grilled by Parliamentary Oversight Committee

The Vice Chair of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Didi, attended parliament’s Independent Committees Oversight Committee to answer its queries about the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court and the appointment of the panel of judges hearing the Nasheed trial.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed is being tried for his detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

Abdulla Didi attended the committee despite the chair of the judicial watchdog, Adam Mohamed, disputing that the JSC was answerable to parliament on the grounds that the summons referred to an “ongoing case”.

Asked if he believed Adam Mohamed had acted legally in unilaterally deciding that the JSC would not abide by the oversight committee’s summons, Abdulla Didi responded that he “will not say that the Chair acted against the law,” and that he “cannot make any comments on the matter.”

“I personally believe that we must be answerable to the oversight committee. That is why I am here today,” he said.

Conflict of Interest

Before discussions on the scheduled topic began, Abdulla Didi requested that Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ali Waheed leave the committee.

Didi said Ali Waheed currently had a case against him in the Criminal Court of which he the judge, and hence he believed there is a conflict of interest to have the MP question him during Thursday’s meeting.

“I wouldn’t have felt any hesitation if all the JSC members were here. But since I am being questioned separately, I don’t think it is a good idea to have someone who has a criminal case against him question me here,” Abdulla Didi said.

Ali Waheed said he believed he was not required to leave the committee as per the constitution, but was willing to do so as it was “ethically the right thing to do.”

Chair of the committee MDP MP Ahmed Sameer informed Abdulla Didi that Ali Waheed had previously informed the committee that he would not be asking any questions from the JSC member, and that he was only participating in the meeting due to the quorum requirements needed to have the meeting.

“Abdulla Didi is here as a JSC member, and not as a Criminal Court Judge. Likewise, it is the citizen Ali Waheed who has a pending case in the court, not the MP for Thohdoo constituency. As there is no conflict when viewed in the light of the capacities in which you both are participating in this meeting, I am of the opinion that MP Ali Waheed is legally allowed to stay and question you. I would like to state here that if Ali Waheed is leaving, it is only out of his personal accord,” Sameer stated.

Later in the meeting, Sameer referred to Ali Waheed’s voluntary exit from the meeting as an example of abstaining from action in cases of conflict of interest, and asked Abdulla Didi why he had not similarly abstained from voting on deciding the panel overseeing Nasheed’s case.

“You are a member of the JSC which voted on choosing judges for the Hulhumale’ Court panel of magistrates. You also serve as a judge in the Criminal Court. The case which this panel is to preside over concerns the Chief Judge of the court you serve under, Judge Abdulla Mohamed. Under these circumstances, why didn’t you abstain from the vote which decided upon magistrates for the Abdulla Mohamed case?” Sameer asked.

“I had no such intentions like what you are implying. The short answer to that question is that we did not decide on the panel to preside on an ‘Abdulla Mohamed case’. It disturbs me when you refer to the case as such,” Didi responded.

“It is a case regarding the arrest of Abdulla Mohamed, in which some other people are accused of having committed criminal acts. The case is about them, not Abdulla Mohamed,” he said, shaking his head.

Sameer also asked about alleged conflict of interest in the vote taken by the JSC to continue running the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court itself.

“JSC Member Ahmed Rasheed, who is the husband of a Hulhumale’ Court Magistrate, was among the members who voted to establish or continue the said court, isn’t he? And you voted, too. This is extremely concerning, and so I repeat: the case concerns the detention of the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court by the then government. You are a judge serving in that court. Rasheed’s wife is a magistrate in the court trying this case. Do you think this decision is impartial under these circumstances?” Sameer asked.

Didi attempted to dodge the question, stating he was unaware how Rasheed had cast his vote. MP Sameer, however stated he had seen the related documents, and informed him that four members had voted, including Rasheed and Abdulla Didi.

Didi still insisted that he “found it difficult” to answer the question, or decide on the validity of the decision.

The Vice Chair of the judicial watchdog stated that as a norm, if a member felt that he had a conflict of interest in any matter that the commission was taking a vote on, he would state the reasons and excuse himself. He further stated that if a member failed to excuse himself, and yet JSC Chair Adam Mohamed believed such a conflict existed, the chair would then point it out and discuss with the relevant member an agreeable way to proceed.

MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor asked if any such issues had arisen during the vote taken to appoint magistrates to the Hulhumale’ Court panel.

“I cannot recall if any members declared any conflict of interest. Nor can I at all remember whether the Chair noticed such a conflict,” Abdulla Didi said.

The panel

Didi said that discussion about the panel of judges of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court initially began in the JSC after the then head of the court requested the commission assign judges from other courts to preside in a pending case at the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.

“Once this request came in, we discussed the matter and proposed names for the bench. We then sent these names to the Supreme Court bench, otherwise known as the Judicial Council, for comment. They decided on those names and sent it back to the JSC. This is how the process went,” Didi told the committee.

“This is also completely in line with what the laws state, I refer to Articles 47 to 49 of the Judges’ Act. I might be referring to the previous Judges’ Act. There were some amendments made to it later, which may have changed the order of these articles I quote. I am not sure, I haven’t reviewed it that much,” Abdulla Didi said.

Article 47 of the Judges’ Act states “If a judge is temporarily transferred to preside over a case in a different court, he must be transferred to a court of the same level as the one he is serving in.”

Article 48 states “A judge can be temporarily appointed to another court in the instance that the court is unable to sufficiently complete assigned work, or if the court had difficulties providing services, or if the judges serving in the court has been suspended from their duties, or if other circumstances which may cause a delay in the completion of work assigned to the court occur.”

Article 49 states “It is the Judicial Services Commission, with the counsel of the Judicial Council, which will come to a decision on the transfer of judges to oversee cases in other courts.”

After listening to Abdulla Didi’s version of events, Sameer presented the information previously gathered by the commission.

“The laws state that the JSC has no right to decided on the judges on a panel. Only the head magistrate of the relevant court has the powers to do so,” Sameer said.

“Now, the Chief Magistrate at this court at the time, Huraa Magistrate Moosa Naseem, sent in three names for the panel to JSC asking only for your commission’s comments. The list included his name as well. Can you then tell me what legal right the JSC has to disregard these three names and appoint three completely different magistrates?”

Abdulla Didi said in response: “We at the JSC considered the important cases pending at the Hulhumale’ Court. So we proposed other names with the intention of assigning qualified, experienced judges. I don’t believe this conflicts with any existing laws. What I am saying is, I did not come to any decision. It was after discussion with the other JSC members that we passed it through a vote.”

MDP MP Ahmed Abdulla asked the JSC member why, if the selection was based on merit and experience, the three magistrates proposed by the Hulhumale’ Court had been disregarded while all three were currently serving as chief magistrates of their respective courts.

“Let me explain. According to the Judge’s Act, no judge had the power to bring in judges from other courts to preside on cases. JSC considers the good magistrates in the atoll… That is not to imply that any magistrate is bad at their work, just that because of the nature of this case, we took special care to appoint the most able and appropriate judges who will treat the case with extra care and contemplate the matter deeply,” Abdulla said.

Didi insisted that the JSC that held legal powers to appoint magistrates to the panel, at which point the Chair of the parliamentary committee intervened and advised the judge to refrain from making misleading and non-factual statements.

“I am deeply disturbed that you are making these comments and passing it off ‘as what the law says’. The law says perfectly clearly outlines the role of the chief magistrate, and that if other magistrates are temporarily being brought into a court, they must be from the same judicial jurisdiction,” Sameer intervened.

Didi also claimed the JSC had appointed the panel after the Hulhumale’ Court requested additional magistrates to assist with their work.

However, member appointed from among the public to JSC Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman, who had been interviewed by the committee prior to Abdulla Didi on Thursday, had stated that the request for additional magistrates and other support for the court had come after the appointment of the panel of magistrates.

MP Ghafoor questioned if the bench had been appointed after Nasheed’s case had been referred to the Hulhumale’ Court, to which Didi replied in the affirmative.

Asked if Didi was aware that one of the magistrates appointed to the bench had allegations of disciplinary issues, sexual offences and corruption against him, he responded that he was not aware of such a case.

When MDP MP Rugiyya Mohamed said JSC Member Sheikh Rahman had confirmed that indeed such an allegation was being looked into by the commission, Abdulla Didi then responded that he had heard such rumours via media and had asked administrative staff to look into the matter.

He later said he “did not believe any of the magistrates on the bench would have done anything of the sort.”

“I cannot confirm whether such a matter exists. The thing is, if we are to consider an allegation or a complaint, there has to be some solid reasons that should support the allegation, whether it be proved or not. If it is a solid and believable allegation, then I might not agree to have him on the bench,” he continued.

“I don’t think just being alleged of anything is reason enough to remove any magistrate from the bench. The allegation itself must carry some weight. However, such allegations can only be cleared once the relevant authority investigates it. So, I do believe any such investigations must be expedited. I don’t see any reason why such a magistrate cannot sit on the panel in the meantime.”

Is the Hulhumale court legitimate?

Asked directly whether Abdulla Didi believed the court to be a legitimate entity, he answered, “I am not saying it is a legitimate court. Then again, nor I am I saying it is illegitimate. All I can say is I don’t believe it will be liquidated.”

“I think the JSC cannot establish a court through a vote. I can’t really recall the law too well at this moment, but the JSC certainly cannot form a court,” Abdulla Didi confirmed in response to a question posed by Sameer.

Sameer then asked if the Vice Chair of JSC had cast his vote on the matter of forming the Hulhumale’ Court.

“That’s a huge misunderstanding. We never voted to form a court. We voted to establish that, in accordance with the laws, the Hulhumale’ Court will not be automatically cancelled. The court was in existence even before [the vote],” Abdulla Didi answered.

However, Sameer challenged Abdulla Didi’s statement. He stated that in 2007, the President’s Office had created an administrative office called the Hulhumale’ Courts Section, and not a court, saying that the existence of a magistrate court in Hulhumale’ is not noted on any paperwork.

“We have documents proving that after the ratification of the Judicature Act, that under a decision of the JSC itself, the budget, stamp and even staff of this Hulhumale’ Court Section office were transferred to the Family Court in Male’. And then, out of the blue, your commission decided there is a Magistrate Court in Hulhumale’,” Sameer stated.

“You are aware that a case against the Hulhumale’ Court was filed in a lower court. The JSC then referred it to the Supreme Court. Then JSC Chair Adam Mohamed, who is a Supreme Court Judge, cast the deciding vote on the case. Do you believe this was conducted in due process?” Sameer asked.

Abdulla Didi refused to answer the question on the grounds that he could comment on a decision of the Supreme Court. He said “there is no way I can call that a bad ruling.”

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MDP primary winner loses party ticket over incomplete documentation

The winner of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) primary for the upcoming by-election of the vacant mid-Fuvahmulah atoll council seat, Shaffaf Naseer, has lost the party ticket after failing to submit an ID card original before the 3pm deadline yesterday.

Shaffaf won the primary election that took place on October 9 with 112 votes followed by Mohamed Abdulla Didi with 97 votes. In lieu of not fielding a candidate, the runner-up was registered at the Elections Commission (EC) on Sunday as the MDP candidate.

MDP Secretary General Hassan Shah told Minivan News today that Shaffaf contacted him from Fuvahmulah on Thursday and requested assistance with completing the documentation.

After collecting a stamped document from the Department of Judicial Administration around 2pm yesterday, Shah said he discovered that Shaffaf’s ID card original was missing from the documents when he went to file them with the EC.

According to the application form (page 11, bullet point 3), the form should be submitted with the original ID card of the candidate.

Shaffaf had sent his ID card on a flight that landed “10 minutes before [the 3pm deadline].” Shah explained that he did not believe the person delivering the card could make it to the EC from the airport before the deadline elapsed.

The second-placed candidate was meanwhile “monitoring the situation very closely” and was prepared with the required documentation.

“My thinking was that the party should not lose the opportunity to compete in the election,” Shah said, adding that the application form was handed in “seconds before the EC closed.”

If the last minute decision had not been made, Shah argued that the party would not have had a candidate in the by-election scheduled for November 19.

“They [the EC] had already rejected one of our candidates for a by-election because he didn’t submit an ID card original,” he said.

The former mid-Fuvahmulah atoll councillor, Hassan Saeed, also a member of the MDP, lost his seat after the Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that he had a decreed debt.

The EC announced yesterday that three candidates have filed applications for the mid-Fuvahmulah by-election, including one MDP candidate, one opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) candidate and one Independent candidate.

Primary winner

Speaking to Minivan News today, Shaffaf Naseer criticised the party’s administrative staff and senior leaders for not providing adequate assistance with his application.

“It is not at the last minute that the party should know that the ID card original is missing,” he said.

Shaffaf however praised MDP Secretary General Shah for “working very hard” this week to complete the documentation.

“But when it came to him it was too late,” he added. “He was very helpful and cooperative. But I didn’t get any cooperation from the party officials before that.”

After winning the primary and returning to his home island, Shaffaf said he was assured by senior members of MDP that the party would handle the application process.

“So I was busy preparing my campaign and meeting family members, relatives and supporters,” he said. “Our forecasts show that I would have won easily.”

Shaffaf particularly objected to the party not providing him with a signed resolution confirming his candidacy: “They didn’t monitor the situation or check the documents to verify them,” he said. “There should be principles, rules and procedures to follow in everything.”

If the party had informed him of the requirement of the ID card original, said Shaffaf, he would have flown to Male’ during the weekend.

“If they submitted my forms with the Elections Commission and got rejected, I would have accepted it,” he continued. “But they could have waited 15 minutes [past the 3pm deadline] for the person delivering my ID card to get there.”

As a result of the incident, Shaffaf said, MDP members in Fuvahmulah were “divided, confused and fed up.”

Shaffaf called on senior leaders of the party to “investigate what happened and take action against those responsible.”

“I believe the party leadership has to come to Fuvahmulah now and explain how this happened,” he said, adding that the move would be necessary to unite members ahead of the by-election.

Shaffaf said he hoped that the party would strengthen its internal mechanisms and administrative functions as a result of the incident.

The ruling party has strong support in the mid-Fuvahmulah constituency, which is represented in parliament by MDP MP Shifaq Mufeed ‘Histo’.

While he was “disappointed” with the incident as “this should not happen in the largest and most exemplary democratic party in the country,” Shaffaf said he would back the MDP candidate and support the campaign.

However, he added, the voters in Fuvahmulah were independent-minded and he “could not influence how they vote.”

Shaffaf insisted that he did not wish to pursue the matter any further or cause internal disputes in the party.

“I was among the first people from Fuvahmulah to sign for MDP and I will remain a member of the party,” he said.

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