Supreme Court’s annulment verdict “troubling” given ongoing international criticism of judiciary: Bar Human Rights Committee

The UK’s Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) has expressed concern at the annulment of the first round of presidential elections, stating that such a verdict was “particularly troubling in the context of the ongoing international criticism concerning the lack of independence of the Maldivian judiciary and the lack of adequate separation of powers.”

The BHRC conducted independent observations of the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed in the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court earlier this year, a trial the MDP presidential candidate contended was a politically-motivated attempt to bar him from contesting the upcoming election.

The BHRC concurred in its observation report: “BHRC is concerned that a primary motivation behind the present trial is a desire by those in power to exclude Mr Nasheed from standing in the 2013 elections, and notes international opinion that this would not be a positive outcome for the Maldives,” wrote observer Stephen Cragg on behalf of the BHRC, the international human rights arm of the Bar of England and Wales.

In its most recent statement, the BHRC noted that the Supreme Court’s verdict to annul the September 7 election, in which Nasheed received 45.45 percent of the popular vote, “runs contrary to the conclusions of national and international election monitors, including the expert Commonwealth Observer Group, which confirmed that the electoral process was free, fair, well-organised and transparent. BHRC further notes with concern that the Court’s verdict appears to have been based on an unsubstantiated and as yet undisclosed police report.”

“Recent reports indicating that on October 10, the Progressive Party of Maldives filed a petition to the Supreme Court to invalidate the candidacy of Mr Nasheed are also cause for concern,” the BHRC added.

“BHRC urges the Maldivian national authorities to conduct prompt and effective investigations into these incidents, and to ensure that human rights, electoral freedoms and respect for the rule of law, including for Constitutional provisions, are respected at all times, not least in the current uncertain electoral climate,” the statement concluded.

Australia calls for parties to respect outcome of polls

The Australian government has meanwhile issued a statement acknowledging the Maldivian government’s “commitment to hold a fresh round of Presidential elections on October 19.”

“It is important that the elections are held in a free, fair and inclusive manner and facilitate a peaceful transition to a new President by 11 November, as required under the Constitution of Maldives,” the statement read. “We encourage Maldives voters to take part in the rescheduled process and note preparations being undertaken by the Elections Commission to facilitate voter participation.”

The Australian government called on all parties “to accept the outcome of a free and fair contest”.

“As a fellow member of the Commonwealth, we look to all parties in the Maldives to uphold democratic values and the rule of law by ensuring an orderly and peaceful electoral process.”

“Alongside other Commonwealth member states and other concerned parties in the international community, we continue to watch developments in the Maldives very closely,” the statement concluded.

The Australian government’s statement follows a statement this week from UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, declaring that it was “imperative that there are no further delays and the elections be free, fair and inclusive, and that international observers are invited.”

Hague urged presidential candidates “to act in line with the interests of the people of Maldives”, and expressed hope “that the process will enable the President elect to be inaugurated by 11 November, in line with the constitutional framework.”

UK Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt has previously said the country was “extremely concerned” when the Supreme Court ordered the second round of presidential elections delayed.

“I recognise the right of the Maldivian courts to ensure legitimate allegations of electoral malpractice are investigated appropriately. However, it is vital to avoid any unnecessary disruptions to the national electoral process, and for representatives from all sides to be represented during any legal proceedings,” Burt stated, prior to the court’s annulment of the first round’s results.

The US also said this week that it was is “deeply concerned” about continued legal actions “that could further delay the Maldivian presidential election”.

“It is important that the [election] go forward unimpeded in a fair, inclusive and transparent way,” said Deputy Spokesperson for the US State Department, Marie Harf, in a statement.

“The basis of any democracy is for citizens to choose their government, for political differences to be decided at the ballot box in an environment free of violence and for election results to be respected,” the statement read.

“We continue to urge a peaceful political process that is inclusive of all candidates in order to ensure the Maldivian election that will meet international standards of an elected, legitimate democracy,” it concluded.


Fair trial for Nasheed “difficult to see” when judicial bench “cherrypicked to convict”: BHRC trial observers

Read the BHRC’s second independent trial observation

The UK’s Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) has expressed “serious concern” over the appointment of judges by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) in the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Accounts of the appointment process, “if accurate, suggest egregious unconstitutional behaviour by the JSC in selecting the judicial bench to hear Mr Nasheed’s case,” stated BHRC Executive Committee member Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, who visited the Maldives to observe recent proceedings against Nasheed.

The committee has conducted several independent trial observations of proceedings involving the former President, who is charged over the detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, during the final days of his presidency.

Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) maintain that the charges are a politically motivated attempt to prevent him contesting the 2013 presidential elections, challenging both the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court hearing the case, and the JSC’s appointment of judges to the case. The JSC itself includes several of Nasheed’s direct political opponents, including rival presidential candidate, resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim.

The Nasheed trial was meanwhile suspended by Chief Judge of the High Court last week pending a ruling into the legitimacy of the bench’s appointment – an action which led all other High Court judges to file a complaint against the Chief Judge with the JSC.

“It is difficult to see how proceedings presided over by a judicial bench, cherrypicked for their likelihood to convict by a highly politicised JSC, which includes a number of Mr Nasheed’s direct political rivals, could in any way be deemed to comply with constitutional and international fair trial rights, including the right to an ‘independent court established by law’,” stated Ghrálaigh, in her concluding remarks.

“The BHRC welcomes the current investigation by Parliament’s Independent Commission’s Oversight Committee into the judicial selection process in the case, but notes with concern the refusal by the JSC to cooperate with that investigation,” she added.

“Lack of transparency in the constitution of judicial benches and in the assignment of cases fundamentally undermines the proper administration of justice: fair trial guarantees and the requirements of natural justice demand not only that justice be done, but that it be seen to be done,” her report states.

The report provides a detailed overview of state of the judiciary and political context in the lead up to Nasheed’s resignation and prosecution.

Ghrálaigh states that given concerns about the JSC’s politicisation and “serious questions” concerning its appointment of judges to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, “it is perhaps surprising that the court should have decided of its own motion (“ex proprio motu”) to deny the request made by Mr Nasheed’s legal team to postpone the proceedings until after the elections, in the absence of any objection by the prosecuting authorities to such an adjournment.”

“Although there is nothing to prohibit courts from making decisions governing their process ex proprio motu, the allegations concerning the manner of selection of the Hulhumalé Magistrates’ Court panel render the Court’s stated reasoning for its decision all the more disquieting,” she stated.

The BHRC was not seeking to downplay the seriousness of the charges against Nasheed, she noted.

“However, what is clear is that the case is far from straightforward. Central both to the context of Judge Abdulla’s arrest and to the nature of the criminal proceedings against the former president are fundamental questions of judicial independence in the Maldives.”

“The charge against Mr Nasheed is that he acted “in a manner contrary to law” in ordering the arrest and detention of a senior judge. Although the details of the prosecution case have yet to be set out, it is clear that the Article 81 offence with which Mr Nasheed is charged is not a trivial one,” the report states.

“The BHRC notes with concern the increasing number of reports and statements by international bodies, including those referenced in this report, which conclude that the Maldives does not have an independent and impartial judiciary,” the report states.

“The BHRC further notes the view inside and outside the Maldives that the failure by the institutions of the State, in particular the JSC, properly to implement constitutionally mandated reforms to create an impartial judiciary, independent from political pressures, and the failure properly to investigate and/or sanction allegations of egregious, unlawful and/or unconstitutional judicial conduct, have served significantly to derail the State’s transition to a functioning constitutional democracy,”

Given extensive local and international concern over the state of the Maldivian judiciary, Ghrálaigh observes that the context for the criminalisation of Nasheed’s detention of Judge Abdulla, hangs on whether the Chief Judge is, as stipulated by Article 81 under which Nasheed is being charge, “an innocent person”.

“It is against that background, and in the context of a number of serious complaints against Judge Abdulla, that the order for his arrest was made. That background is intrinsically bound up in the nature of the charge against Mr Nasheed: the wording of Article 81, which criminalises a public servant for “us[ing] the authority of his office to intentionally arrest or detain an[…] innocent person contrary to the law” suggests that the context to the arrest, and in particular the allegations against Judge Abdulla, will necessarily be central to the determination of the charges against the former President,” the BHRC report states.

Ghrálaigh notes that the JSC was “also subject to significant criticism for its failure properly to oversee individual complaints against individual judges. One judge against whom a number of serious complaints were levied was Judge Abdulla, accused inter alia of “implicat[ion] in 14 cases of obstruction of policy duty”, including “strategically delaying cases involving opposition [Gayoom loyalist] members”, “twist[ing] and interpret[ing] laws so they could not be enforced against certain politicians”, “accepting bribes to release convicts”13 and “hijack[ing] the whole court”.

“I was informed that a JSC complaints committee charged in December 2009 with investigating Judge Abdulla, failed to issue any findings, following an injunction sought by, and granted to the judge by the Civil Court, preventing his further investigation by the JSC and/or the publication of any report concerning his conduct,” Ghrálaigh noted.

The JSC, responsible for reappointing judges including Judge Abdulla in 2010 at the conclusion of the constitutional interim period, “failed properly ‘to fulfill its constitutional mandate of proper vetting and reappointing of judicial candidates’, a failure regarding which international bodies, including the International Commission of Jurists, have expressed concern,” she added.

“Rather, in August 2010, amidst much controversy, it proceeded to confirm almost every Gayoom-regime judge, qualified or not, in office for life, finding that the constitutional provisions regarding judicial appointment were merely “symbolic”.

“Consequently, the Maldivian judiciary remains largely unchanged since the country’s transition to a constitutional democracy: the vast majority of judges in office, including Judge Abdulla, are political appointees of former President Gayoom, and many still lack any formal training in law.”

Furthermore, “The blocking in the People’s Majlis of key pieces of legislation including the Penal Code and the Criminal Evidence Act, that would provide for equality and uniformity in the application of a codified body of law, means that mainly untrained judges continue to wield considerable discretion in their determination of cases.”

Read the BHRC’s second independent trial observation