Judiciary needs transitional arrangement before elections: former JSC member

The former Presidential Member of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) Aishath Velezinee has called on international organisations to lead a transitional arrangement for the judiciary prior to September’s presidential elections.

UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul’s final report to the UN Human Rights Council extensively outlined the political, budgetary and societal challenges facing the judiciary and wider legal community, as well as the politicisation of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and its failure to appoint qualified judges under Article 285 of the constitution.

The Special Rapporteur also expressed “deep concern” over the failure of the judicial system to address “serious violations of human rights” during the Maldives’ 30 year dictatorship, warning of “more instability and unrest” should this continue to be neglected.

“The UN special rapporteur’s report has raised very serious concerns that the public should be thinking about, because it has implications that affects every single individual in this country, the report is not for the state alone,” said Velezinee during a press conference held on June 5.

“The report raises questions regarding the impartiality of the supreme court. It highlights a political bias in the supreme court,” Velezinee said. “If we are going to allow the supreme court to be the decider on elections, there is very little reason for the public to have confidence in the election results.”

Velezinee noted that because only three months remain before the September 7 presidential elections, “It is time for the parliament and for the leaders to sit down together and come to a transitional arrangement.”

“That transitional arrangement should include a bench or some system outside of existing courts, outside of the supreme court, that will have a final say on all election related issues,” she stated.

“It can’t be done only locally. We need the expertise, presence and participation of the International Commission of Jurists as well as the UN in a transitional arrangement,” she continued.

“Considering the status of the state today, we need a partnership. Bilateral participation would not be something to promote, the best thing would be to have broader participation with international partners,” Velezinee added.

Resistance to consolidating democracy

“Our country today is at a serious critical junction and the issues are all coming from resistance to consolidating democracy,” said Velezinee.

“One of the most serious issues noted in the [UN special rapporteur’s] report is the misconstruing of democratic concepts in the constitution, and the use of these for personal gain by state officials within the JSC, Supreme Court, as well as parliament.”

“After elections the judiciary must be overhauled,” she declared.

The JSC was required to re-appoint judges under Article 285 of the constitution who possessed “educational qualifications, experience and recognised competence to discharge the duties and responsibilities of a judge, and must be of high moral character.”

“It is only through acknowledgement and acceptance that we have breached the constitution on article 285 that we will have the opportunity and the legitimacy to overhaul the judiciary,” explained Velezinee.

“That is very important, unless we do that we may fall into a cycle of coups… and this will go on unless the judiciary functions correctly.”

Velezinee said that while only the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) “has stood by the constitution”, it had failed so far to directly address the controversial re-appointment of unqualified judges to the judiciary.

“I have heard the MDP talk about problems in the judiciary and with individual judges, but I am disappointed I have not yet heard them speak of the constitutional breach of article 285,” she told Minivan News.

“[Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla] Shahid is an expert on democracy and is ready to intervene to return the Maldives to the constitution,” claimed Velezinee. “Having Shahid join the MDP is good because now they can go ahead and return the country [to constitutional rule].”

“I also welcome [former Attorney General Husnu] Suood breaking his silence and taking initiative. It’s a good sign he’s speaking up,” she added.

Eariler this week Suood claimed that the JSC had been taken over “dark powers”, and that it was fully under the control of certain political figures.

Suood further contended that the presidential candidate for the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament and PPM MP Ahmed Nazim, and retired Supreme Court Judge Mujthaz Fahmy have long been in the business of influencing the judges and the verdicts they had been issuing.

“The entire judiciary is under the influence of [retired Supreme Court Judge] Mujthaaz Fahmy,” he alleged.

Suood further alleged that Deputy Speaker Nazim had close ties with members of the JSC, and said several judges had told him that Yameen Abdul Gayoom – half brother of former President of 30 years, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – had on several occasions given instructions to the judges over the phone as to how their sentences should be phrased.

Yameen and Nazim have denied the allegations.