Supreme Court has removed right of appeal, claim legal experts

Legal experts have accused the Supreme Court of effectively removing the right of appeal after the bench shortened the time in which an appeal case can be filed at a higher court to 10 days.

In a ruling issued yesterday (January 27), the court revoked Article 15 and 42 of the Judicature Act and Article 85 of the Employment Act – which stipulates the current appeal durations – while a Supreme Court circular signed by Chief Justice Abdullah Saeed announced the new time frame.

The move has prompted legal experts to accuse the court of infringing upon the constitutional right to an appeal.

“They have taken out the appeal process,” says former Judicial Services Commission (JSC) member turned whistle-blower Aishath Velezinee. “Ten days for appeal will deprive people of the right to appeal.”

Another legal expert – who wished to remain anonymous – suggested that the new time frame would make it practically impossible for many people to lodge an appeal.

The Supreme Court ruling – signed by all five of the Supreme Court justices – said the current regulations are in violation of Article 42 of the Constitution which states the right to a “fair and public hearing within a reasonable time”.

The Judicature Act currently states that appeals to the higher courts will only be accepted within 90 days, while 180 days is allowed for cases adjudicated in island courts outside of the capital Malé.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court circular stated that the establishment of two regional High Court branches under amendments to the Judicature Act means all appeal cases should be appealed in the region of the court issuing the decision.

According to the amendments passed by parliament last month – which also resulted in the controversial dismissal of two Supreme Court Judges – the nine member High Court will be divided into three branches with three judges assigned to each.

The two regional branches in the North and South will be allowed to hear appeals against magistrate court verdicts while only the Malé branch will be allowed to hear challenges to laws and regulations.

Constitutional rights

Velezinee claimed that by changing the regulations, the Supreme Court is “taking over the functions of the legislator” in an “attack on the Constitution”.

“No right is guaranteed anymore,” said the outspoken critic of the judiciary. “Supreme Court is under the constitution, but now it has gone above the Constitution.”

Velezinee has previously accused the Supreme Court of dominating the entire judiciary, and compromising the independence of the lower courts, via its close oversight of the Department of Judicial Administration.

Similar suggestions made by the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) to the UN Human Rights Council last year prompted the initiation of ‘suo moto’ proceedings on charges of undermining the Constitution and the sovereignty of the country.

Velezinee was barred from the public gallery during the proceedings of the HRCM case in October.

Meanwhile, a prominent legal expert said that by shortening the appeal period, the Supreme Court is “trying to limit a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution”.

“The right to a timely trial should not overlap the right to appeal,” he said. “It is going to be logistically and practically impossible for most people to prepare an appeal case and submit it within ten days.”

He pointed out that most atolls do not have the adequate transportation systems to the nearest court branch, saying that it might be easier for islanders to travel to Malé to file an appeal.

Both he and Velezinee suggested that it normally takes in excess of two weeks to acquire the court report required to adequately prepare for an appeal case.

Related to this story

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Judicial administration brought under direct control of Supreme Court

Majlis removes Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, Justice Muthasim Adnan from Supreme Court

Removal of Supreme Court judges will have “chilling effect” on work of judiciary: UN special rapporteur

A justice system in crisis: UN Special Rapporteur’s report


Justice Ali Hameed appointed to the Judicial Service Commission

Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed has been appointed to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) by President Abdulla Yameen.

A media official from the judicial watchdog confirmed that Hameed would replace JSC President Justice Adam Mohamed, who resigned on Sunday (January 18) citing personal reasons.

Last year, the JSC cleared Hameed of misconduct charges, citing lack of evidence to support his alleged appearance in three sex tapes involving three different foreign women, which went viral in mid-2013.

Former JSC member and outspoken proponent of judicial reform Aishath Velezinee said Hameed’s “appointment to the JSC by the consensus of Supreme Court judges shows how low the courts have fallen”.

The commission voted against suspending Hameed last year, citing a lack of evidence, while the Maldives Police Service – which launched its own investigation – told the press that they been unable to determine if the man seen fornicating with the women was Hameed.

In its ruling last year, the JSC noted that the police had closed its own investigation into the case, and that the tape may constitute an act of espionage as it appeared to have been filmed by an unauthorised body, noting that it is against the Constitution to obtain evidence by unlawful means.

Corruption charges filed against the Supreme Court judge were also stalled last year after key documents were said to have been destroyed by a coffee spill at the Criminal Court.

Velezinee today described Ali Hameed as a puppet to the current regime saying: “Any judge who doesn’t deliver as directed will be subjected to action by the JSC. Ali Hameed has got a noose on his own neck – the sex tapes. The government can pull any time.”

“This compromises the independence of the judiciary as the old system would now prevail,” added Velezinee, stating that the current government would now be able to control the decisions of the courts.

The ten member JSC includes representatives from High Court, the trial courts, the People’s Majlis, the public (appointed by the Majlis), the attorney general, the chair of the Civil Service Commission, the Majlis speaker, a presidential appointee, a practising lawyer, and a Supreme Court judge nominated by his peers.

The appointment comes less than a month after the JSC found Hameed’s fellow judges on the Supreme Court – Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and Justice Muthasim Adnan – unfit to continue to serve on the bench in a ruling made available to neither the public nor MPs.

The secrecy of the decision did not prevent the Majlis voting to remove the pair three days later (December 14), in a move described as having “severely jeopardised” the country’s judicial independence by Commonwealth groups.

The Civil Court and several prominent lawyers also condemned the JSC’s recommendation to remove the judges, saying that the People’s Majlis had “forced” the JSC to deem Faiz and Adnan unfit for the bench without due process, through an “unconstitutional” amendment to the Judicature Act.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and lawyers Gabriela Knaul also expressed serious concern over the decision, saying that it would “have a chilling effect on the work of the judiciary at all levels”.

In a 2013 report, Knaul noted that political polarisation in the Maldives had meant that the “commission has allegedly been subjected to all sorts of external influence and has consequently been unable to function properly”.

Related to this story

JSC President Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla resigns

Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed cleared of misconduct in sex tape scandal

Two more sex videos of Supreme Court judge leaked

Police suspend investigations into Supreme Court judge’s sex scandal


Former President Maumoon “saddened” over Judge Shujoon’s resignation

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has expressed sadness over the resignation of Civil Court Judge Aisha Shujoon.

A tweet posted yesterday by the former president read that he was “saddened by the resignation of Judged Aishath Shujoon one of the first two women judges I had pleasure of appointing in 2007”.

Haveeru reported Shujoon gave her letter of resignation to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Monday (December 29).

Shujoon, a founding member of Maldivian Democracy Network, was recently re-elected to UN subcommittee on the prevention of torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment.

Earlier this month, the seven member Civil Court bench condemned the removal of two Supreme Court Judges, including the chief justice, saying the JSC was “forced” to deem the two judges unfit for the bench through an “unconstitutional” amendment to the Judicature Act.

A subsequent case challenging the decision was removed from the Civil Court’s jurisdiction by the Supreme Court.

In February, JSC launched an investigation into Shujoon after she announced on state television that she was once offered a US$5 million bribe, which she refused.


PPM parliamentary group leader Nihan criticises US for comments on judiciary

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan has suggested the United States should look closer to home before passing comment on the Maldives’ judiciary.

While speaking at a ceremony in Gaaf Dhaalu Thinadhoo yesterday, Nihan said the majority of the countries issuing statements on the Maldivian judiciary do so without considering their domestic circumstances.

“They are afraid to talk about their own courthouses and the rights of their citizens. For example America, one of the biggest critics, is at the verge of killing black people on sight,” Haveeru has reported Nihan as saying.

“The countries which remain quiet, even as Israel continues to kill off people in the Middle East, Al-Quddus area – they are pointing their fingers at others,” he continued.

Speaking with Minivan News today, the Villimalé MP has suggested his words had been taken out of context by local media, though he defended them as being based upon facts, defending his right to freedom of expression.

Nihan’s comments appeared to refer to two recent incidents in the US in which individuals died at the hands of police officers, prompting nationwide civil rights protests.

During a visit to the Maldives this week US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal said that judicial independence is still an issue in the Maldives, despite the young democracy’s accomplishments.

The comments came just days after the removal of two Supreme Court judges by the People’s Majlis, in a move condemned as unconstitutional by both local and international civil society groups, as well as the Maldives’ Civil Court.

Numerous Commonwealth organisations said the move had “severely jeopardised” the independence of the judiciary, while the International Commission of Jurists said the “astonishingly arbitrary” decision had “effectively decapitated the country’s judiciary”.

Nihan told Minivan News today that there was no reason why the Maldives should act upon “planned and political” statements from European countries either.

The government, and President Yameen in particular, has heavily criticised the EU for what it regards as interference in the internal affairs of the country, suggesting it had prompted the Maldives to look increasingly to China as a development partner.

When asked about the impact of his comments on diplomatic relations, Nihan said that he believed that there should be no impact as Maldives has the right to defend itself from its critics in the international arena.

Meanwhile, a PPM press release on Thursday (December 18) had slammed what it termed attempts to bring the Maldives into disrepute by Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Ibrahim Gasim, who suggested that Maldives was facing international censure over the removal of Supreme Court judges.

“We’re giving a bad signal. [We are] talking about comments made about the Maldives looking at statements from America and the commonwealth,” the business tycoon was quoted as saying in local media.

Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and Justice Muthasim Adnan were removed following the passage of government-sponsored amendments to the Judicature Act, which proposed reducing the number of judges on the apex court from seven to five.

Following ratification of the amendments by President Abdulla Yameen, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) promptly recommended the dismissal of Faiz and Adnan, which was approved by parliament on December 14 with 53 votes in favour and 21 against.

Related to this story

PPM accuses JP of misleading public, bringing government into disrepute

ICJ says Majlis has “decapitated the country’s judiciary”

Judicial independence still an issue in Maldives, says US assistant secretary of state

Judicial independence, rule of law “severely jeopardised” in the Maldives, says Commonwealth organisations


Abdulla Saeed appointed as new Chief Justice, dismissed Justice Faiz laments “black day”

President Abdulla Yameen has appointed Supreme Court Justice Abdulla Saeed as the Maldives’ new Chief Justice within an hour of Majlis unanimously approving him for the position.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs staged a walk out prior to the vote, accusing the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) of burying the country’s 2008 democratic constitution.

MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy described the PPM and its coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) as “enemies of democracy bent on taking revenge on the people after having assumed power through brute force.”

Tonight’s extraordinary session at 9pm followed an extraordinary morning session during which a two-third majority of MPs voted out incumbent Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and Justice Muthasim Adnan.

Speaking to local media today, Faiz condemned the Majlis vote as unconstitutional, and said the move raises doubts over the separation of powers and the continuation of judicial independence in the Maldives

“Today will be written down as a black day in the constitutional history of the Maldives. I state this is a black day for the constitution. Taking such a vote against the constitution is, I believe, disrespectful to the constitution,” he said.

Faiz and Muthasim were voted out after the Majlis amended the Judicature Act to reduce the seven-member Supreme Court bench to five judges.

The ruling coalition maintains the move will strengthen the judiciary and facilitate judicial reform.

Black day

Former President Mohamed Nasheed had appointed Faiz as the country’s first Chief Justice in 2010, days after he ordered the army to lock up the Supreme Court premises when the interim Supreme Court bench illegally declared themselves judges for life.

Faiz and Muthasim have formed the dissenting opinion in several controversial cases, including the decision to annul the first round of presidential polls in September 2010.

“Dismissal of a country’s Chief Justice against the constitution is no small matter,” Faiz told CNM today, adding “MPs are mandated to uphold democracy. But today there are doubts over how they perceive democracy.”

Faiz said he had decided not to speak in his defense prior to the vote due to conflict of interest and because he did not want politicians to benefit from any of his statements.

Muthasim was the only Supreme Court Judge with a background in common law.

New Chief Justice

Saeed, who served as the Chief Justice of the Maldives’ first interim Supreme Court from 2008 – 2010, was voted in with 55 votes.

Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs Gasim Ibrahim and Hussain Mohamed voted for Saeed despite having opposed Faiz and Adnan’s removal this afternoon. JP MPs Ali Hussein and Abdulla Riyaz, who had voted against the two judges’ dismissal, did not participate in the vote.

The watchdog Judicial Services Commission (JSC) had recommended that the two judges be dismissed for gross misconduct and incompetence on Thursday. But details of the ruling or evaluation criteria have not been made available to MPs or the public yet.

The seven member Civil Court last night declared the Judicature Act amendment unconstitutional and said it could “destroy judicial independence” in the Maldives.

PPM MP Riyaz Rasheed said Saeed’s appointment would strengthen the judiciary and facilitate judicial reform as MDP had advocated for.

He described Saeed as an educated and capable candidate with a master in Shari’ah and law. Saeed had also committed the Qur’an to memory, Riyaz claimed.

Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed, implicated in a series of sex tapes, administered Saeed’s oath of office.


114 criminal hearings cancelled as state prosecutors refuse to attend court for third day

The Criminal Court has cancelled hearings in 114 criminal cases as state prosecutors refused to attend trials for a third day.

State prosecutors claim they are now “in a legal void” in the absence of a Prosecutor General (PG) or a deputy PG. Former PG Ahmed Muizz resigned in November shortly ahead of a no confidence motion at parliament, while Deputy PG Hussein Shameem resigned on Monday citing the Criminal Court’s “obstruction” of criminal justice.

Attorney General Mohamed Anil has said Assistant Prosecutor General Ahmed Hameed Fahmy must take over the responsibilities of the PG.

The leadership vacuum at the PG office “halts the criminal justice system and endangers public peace,” Anil said in a six page legal opinion sent to President Abdulla Yameen. The PG office must continue with its responsibilities in order to uphold the rule of law, he added.

Meanwhile, the Hithadhoo Court in Addu City is conducting criminal trials and issuing verdicts in the absence of a state prosecutor. Court officials told local media that the court did not accept the justification of absence put forth by PG office lawyers.

President Abdulla Yameen called Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem’s resignation “irresponsible” and said criminal cases must proceed at the courts.

Although Shameem has called on the executive and People’s Majlis to approve a PG immediately, Yameen said he would only submit a new nominee to the newly elected 18th parliament which is set to convene on May 28.

Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) holds a majority in the new parliament. The current Majlis, dominated by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), had rejected Yameen’s nephew Maumoon Hameed for the position in March.

The President’s Office has put out a third call for applicants claiming the number of applicants had been low during the second call. Shameem had expressed interest in the position both times. Local media speculates a third call will allow Hameed to resubmit his application.

Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain said criminal cases can continue even with the leadership vacuum at the PG.

“The Constitution does not recognize the post of a Deputy Prosecutor General. What the Constitution accepts is a Prosecutor General. About four months have passed since we last had a Prosecutor General. That issue has been already reviewed. The situation has not changed,” Faiz said, referring to a Supreme Court order on February 18.

The order was issued in response to the Criminal Court’s refusal in January to proceed with all criminal trials in the absence of a PG, and refusal to begin new trials in February.

The Criminal Court released a statement today announcing that it will abide by the Supreme Court order and continue conducting cases.

In a resignation statement, Shameem said he was unable to fulfill his duties due to the Criminal Court’s failure to prosecute foreigners involved in drug trafficking, delays in issuing rulings on drug related offenses and “unreasonable obstacles” in filing cases at the court.

“These issues obstruct the proper functioning of the criminal justice system. I am deeply saddened to note the extreme delay on the part of those who have the power to address these issues,” he said.

PG Office Spokesperson Hussain Nashid was not responding to calls at the time of press.


Broadcasting Commission cannot regulate way in which Supreme Court is addressed

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has told the Supreme Court that asking media to write the names of persons in a specific way is against international best practice.

The commission’s letter was sent to the Supreme Court on Sunday (March 16) in response to a court request for MBC to enforce strict rules on how Supreme Court judges must be addressed in the media.

It was also pointed out to the court that the commission is mandated with regulating broadcast media alone.

MBC claims to have received a letter suggesting that the court’s justices were being addressed in ways other than how they should be, requesting that the commission inform all media outlets on the appropriate manner in which to write the names of the Supreme Court bench.

An official at MBC told Minivan News that the letter stipulated the Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz’s was to be preceded by the title ‘Chief Justice of the Maldives Honorable Al Ustaz’, the title ‘Justice Honorable Dr’ should be used for Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi, and ‘Justice Honorable Al Ustaz’ for the rest of the bench.

MBC’s reply to the court – signed by the commission President Mohamed Shaheeb – stated that it was not within the commission’s mandate to dictate the content of any station, and that broadcasters were free to work in accordance to their own editorial guidelines in such matters.

The commission highlighted that it does only what is mandated by the Broadcasting Act and regulations, and that it ensures that all licensed broadcasters abide by the code of conduct formulated by the commission.

The Maldives Media Council – established under the Maldives Media Council Act – is mandated with establishing and maintaining a code of conduct for journalists in the country. Minivan News has learned that the council has yet to be approached by court on this matter.

Meanwhile, the Maldives Journalists Association President Ahmed ‘Hirigaa’ Zahir has said that the association is also of the view that journalists should not be forced to use names of anyone in a specific way.

“Anyone can request the media to use write their name how they want it to be written. But it should not be a requirement. Media reports in simple language,” said Zahir.

“While members of parliament are addressed as ‘honorable member’ in the parliament or justices are addressed in a specific way within the courtroom, it does not have to be the case in reporting or speaking in general public.”


Chief Justice calls on Majlis to hasten PG appointment

Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz has called on the parliament to hasten the appointment of a new prosecutor general (PG).

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of the Drug Court’s development structure, the Chief Justice noted that parliament had been conducting extra sittings to conclude unfinished work, and that it was possible to appoint a PG during one of those sittings.

The Criminal Court decided in January that it would not accept any cases submitted by the PG’s Office, and that it would halt all existing cases as the PG position had been vacant for over 30 days.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem today said that he was yet to receive any response from the apex court regarding an appeal for assistance in the matter, made over two weeks ago.

Faiz noted that each day that passed without a PG was a day on which he felt concern. He expressed regret that one half of the criminal justice procedure was now ineffective, and that the constitutional time frame to appoint the new PG had passed.

Furthermore, Faiz said that if the constitution mandates to do something during a specific duration of time it has to be done in that period. The constitution states that if the position of PG becomes vacant a new person must be appointed in 30 days.

Faiz presided over Supreme Court proceedings during the annulment of the 2013 presidential election first round – though the chief justice himself opposed the ruling. The delays resulting from the verdict’s guidelines subsequently led to the extension of the legally mandated presidential term of office, prompting fears of a constitutional crisis.

Speaking to Minivan News today Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem said that the Supreme Court had still not responded to a letter sent by his office complaining about the Criminal Court’s decision.

‘’We called the Supreme Court today also to ask about the response but we were unable to get a word from the Supreme Court regarding the issue,’’ he said.

He stated that it was not for him to make the Supreme Court and parliament accountable and there was nothing he could do about it.

‘’Next week we will decide what to do,’’ he added.

On November 25, former PG Ahmed Muiz submitted his resignation just as parliament was set to debate a no-confidence motion against him.

Last month, Shameem said that the laws did not prohibit the deputy from taking over the responsibilities of the PG should a new person not be appointed within the required 30 days.

He also expressed concern that there were people held in pre-trial detention who were to be kept there until their trials were concluded.

“So what do they do now, it would not be fair to keep them in there until the parliament comes back to work from recess after three months and appoints a new PG,’’ Shameem said.

On December 10, President Abdulla Yameen proposed his nephew Maumoon Hameed for the post, submitting the name to parliament for MPs’ approval.

The issue was sent to the Majlis independent commissions committee, with the group subsequently deciding to seek public opinion before sending Hameed’s name to the parliament floor. The Majlis is now on recess and will not re-commence work until March.

On January 9, the Supreme Court had ordered the Criminal Court to continue pending trials, saying that the criminal justice system must proceed in order to maintain constitutional rule.

The Criminal Court announced it would not reconsider its decision to stop accepting cases, but decided to continue with cases that were already filed at the court.


Judges not informed of impending shuffle

The Judicial Services Commission’s (JSC) Secretary General Abu Bakuru Mohamed has said the commission has not informed ten superior court judges about their impending transfer on January 1, according to local media.

The JSC decided to shuffle the judges in December “in a bid to strengthen the judiciary.” However, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz objected to the decision claiming the commission does not have the authority to shuffle judges.

Although only two days remain for the shuffle to take effect, JSC SG Mohamed has failed to inform judges or explain reasons for the delay, local media have said.

Meanwhile, JSC Members Shuaib Abdul Rahman and MP Ahmed Hamza have confirmed to Minivan News the JSC will stands by its decision to shuffle judges and has called on the SG to facilitate its implementation.

“Informing the judges is an administrative work and the responsibility of the Secretary General. I believe he will abide by the commission’s decision and notify judges prior to their date of transfer. The transferred judges must report to work at the courts where they have been transferred to starting from January 1,” Hamza stated.

The JSC has so far transferred ten Superior Court judges to other courts of the same legal calibre, including the transfer of controversial Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed to the same position at the Drug Court.

JSC Senior Legal and Complaints Officer Hassan Faheem Ibrahim also said that notifying judges is the responsibility of the SG, and so he is unable to comment on the matter.

Controversy around transfer of judges

Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain termed the JSC’s decision “unlawful.” He sent a letter to the president of the judicial watchdog Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed stating that the commission did not have the legal authority to carry out such transfers without deliberation with the Judicial Council – a council compiled of the seven judges of the Supreme Court.

Judge Adam Mohamed himself is reported to have expressed disapproval with the decision of the remaining commission members to transfer judges and to have walked out of the commission meeting.

The commission, however, decided with majority votes to go ahead with the transfers, stating that the Chief Justice’s objection lacked any legal grounds.

“Even under the constitution and the JSC Act, the commission is vested with the power to transfer the judges as we have,” member Hamza said at the time.