Opposition parties condemn “dangerous” MDP protest against judiciary

Opposition parties have strongly condemned a protest launched by the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) against the judiciary and Supreme Court last week, warning of “dangerous” consequences for the nation.

At a press conference today, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef argued that with its campaign against the judiciary the ruling party was risking the Maldives becoming “a failed state.”

“We are starting to see in our country scenes similar to what we saw in countries like Rwanda and Uganda which became failed states, plunged into unrest and bloodshed,” he said.

If judges were accused of misconduct or corruption, said Shareef, complaints could be filed at the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the oversight body for the judiciary.

“Trying to undermine the eminence and dignity of the whole judiciary cannot be seen as efforts to reform judges and put the courts back on the right track,” he contended.

The courts, police and Prosecutor General must take “legal action” against those who undermine the judiciary’s honour and prestige, Shareef said.

The DRP was “very concerned” with fears that the “whole system of justice in this country could fail,” he added.

Following the MDP’s national council approving a resolution to protest against the judiciary, DRP put out a joint press statement with its coalition partner Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) condemning the planned protest as an attempt to “influence the judiciary, intimidate judges and bring the courts into disrepute.”

In response to the MDP protest, the newly-formed Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) led by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom organised a demonstration at artificial beach Friday night to protest the MDP’s “intimidation of judges” and vowed to defend the judiciary.

The religiously conservative Adhaalath Party meanwhile issued a press statement yesterday characterising the MDP protest as “a dangerous warning from the MDP to Maldivian citizens who are against its ideology.”

Adhaalath claimed that the “true purpose” of the MDP’s campaign was to “nullify Islamic shariah, introduce common law to the country and bring foreign judges into the Maldivian judiciary.”

Adhaalath also accused the ruling party of using “bribery, undue influence and intimidation” to threaten separation of powers and “bring all the powers of the state into the President’s fist.”

Echoing a criticism made by other opposition parties, Adhaalath criticised police for failing to protect the former President’s residence. “This shows that the police as an institution is shackled by political influences,” the party said.

“Seven idiots”

In its statement, the Adhaalath Party called on the Supreme Court to take action against the President’s advisor Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail for saying at an MDP rally Friday night that the judiciary should be freed from “seven idiots” on the apex court.

Ibra recently filed a defamation case against the Supreme Court after it reprimanded him for calling on the public to “rise up and sort out the judges”.

In response to Ibra’s calls, the Supreme Court and the JSC demanded authorities investigate the former Male’ MP and chairman of the Special Majlis’ constitution drafting committee, claiming that “making such statements in a free, democratic society under lawful governance goes against the principles of civilisation.”

The Supreme Court subsequently issued a writ of prohibition and took over the case against it from the Civil Court, as a result of which, said Ibra, “I now have to go before the Supreme Court and say to them, ‘You have defamed me, now please decide in my favour.'”

Speaking at MDP Haruge on Friday night, Presidential Commission Spokesperson Abdulla Haseen noted that judges were not independent under the former government and had to follow instructions from the President or the Justice Minister on how to issue verdicts.

A majority of judges on the bench today were appointed by the former President and lacked educational qualifications to enforce the new constitution, he argued.

Haseen said the Presidential Commission was reluctant to send cases for prosecution as a number of cases against opposition MPs remained stalled at the Criminal Court for over two years.

MDP MP Mohamed Nazim said the party was powerless to prevent the contentious reappointment of judges without a parliamentary majority.

In August 2010, the JSC reappointed 160 of the judges appointed by the former government, despite a quarter of the bench possessing criminal records and many others with only primary school level education.

The Supreme Court meanwhile sent the President a letter claiming it had ruled itself tenure for life.

“The only thing we were able to do was [include a provision in the Judges Act] stating that lower court judges must obtain a diploma in seven years,” Nazim said.

Nazim accused the courts of partisan behaviour when it summoned Independent MP Ismail Abdul Hameed to court 45 minutes before a crucial vote on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) legislation. Hameed was found guilty of abuse of authority in his position as former director at the Male’ municipality and sentenced to one year’s banishment.

In his remarks, former Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad observed that political parties neglected the development and modernisation of the judiciary during the reform movement that led to the adoption of a liberal constitution and multi-party democracy.

Criticism and civic action was necessary because of the current state of the judiciary and lack of public confidence in the institution, Sawad said, adding that criminalising persons who criticise the judiciary was contrary to “principles of democracy.”

The public should be able to criticise and comment upon court verdicts, individual judges and perceived failings of the judiciary, he insisted.

In May this year, the JSC abolished its Complaints Committee citing “efficiency”, with complaints against judges subsequently forwarded for review by the legal section and Commission Chair Adam Mohamed, a Supreme Court Justice.

Last year the JSC received 143 complaints concerning the conduct of judges. By its own statistics none were tabled in the commission, and only five were ever replied to. Chair of the former complaints commission, Aishath Velezinee, was meanwhile stabbed in the street in January this year.


Judiciary has failed to keep up with parliament and the executive, says Attorney General

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the body entrusted to vet and regulate the conduct of judges in the Maldives, has failed to match the government and parliament over the last two years in operating within a constitutionally defined role, Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad has claimed.

The claims follow the publication this week of a report by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) that was critical of both political interference in the judiciary by government and opposition groups, and critical of the JSC’s ability to “carry out its functions” in ensuring judges were both impartial and capable of performing their duties.

Along with outlining recommendations for the executive, the Majlis and legal bodies like the JSC to follow in order to better ensure a judiciary independent from government and opposition influence, the ICJ’s Director of Asia Pacific Operations, Roger Normand, suggested a lot of work lay ahead.

Accepting that positive developments had been made within its courts since the Maldives became a democracy, concerns remained over a number of issues, Normand said. Having spoken to stakeholders across the country’s legal system, “ordinary” Maldivians did not look to their courts for justice or to solve problems, he suggested.

The report criticised the conduct of the government during a period of crisis last year; where the government locked shut the Supreme Court questioning its legitimacy on conclusion of the interim period. The report was also critical of the JSC’s decision-making, which was perceived as being inappropriately politically influenced.

Sawad said that he welcomed the observations by the ICJ in regards to recommendations for improving efficiency in the JSC and judicial administration, but added that ultimately, all stakeholders working within the Maldivian court system were under pressure to step up accountability.

“I think there is a lot to be done by the JSC in terms of enhancing the standard of the judiciary,” the attorney general told Minivan News.  “I think there is a need to inwardly look into the judiciary and all agencies related to it. That is the judicial administration, the judicial council, the JSC, the Attorney General’s Office, the Supreme Court and the High Court – it’s time they work together in bringing about perceived standards required of the judiciary in the constitution.”

Sawad said that he believed that as a judicial watchdog, the JSC had at times tended to act defensively instead of self-critically, particularly when reviewing the constitutional role it was assigned within the constitution to appoint judges and protect independence in the judiciary.

In order to try and ensure it was able to meet these roles efficiently, the attorney general suggested that it may be appropriate to have the Majlis consider reviewing the role of the JSC during the last year and a half to determine if it was functional.

However, Sawad claimed that no single entity alone should shoulder the blame in terms of perceived issues with independence in the judiciary.  He added that during a seven year period allotted for education and improvement under the Judges Act, education was a key to ensuring effective changes and developments in ensuring confidence within the legal system.

“When I look at the crucial actors in this, I feel the JSC has a crucial role to play.  I feel the judicial administration have a crucial role to play and I feel there is a missing link in the form of a judicial training academy,” he said.  “We cannot burden the Supreme Court or the High Court of with continuously setting the standards of measure for the rest of the judiciary day-on-day.”

Ultimately, Sawad said that as one of three distinct branches of the state along with the government and the Majlis, the judiciary was required to meet the same levels of accountability as part of its independence – making the role of the JSC essential.

“What we have [under the constitution] is an accountable government and an independent judiciary,” he said. “But independence is a perception made by the people who are the beneficiaries – in this case the public.  If the people do not perceive that level of independence then there is a problem.”

Sawad stressed that the perception of independent courts within the country were especially important in defining the difference between the judiciary before and after 2008, when the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) came to power on the promise of trying to bring more political accountability.

“Pre-2008, people knew that the judiciary was part of the executive,” he said.  “Post-2008, the people need to know the judiciary is independent.”

Government criticism

Along with concerns over the impartiality of the judicial system in the Maldives, the ICJ was also critical of the handling by the government of what it called a “constitutional crisis” last year over the legitimacy of the courts and the arrest of some prominent opposition figures.

In addressing these concerns and whether the actions of the government were a setback to the democratic mandate it promised, Dr Sawad said it was unacceptable under the constitution for any branch of the state to have jurisdiction over another, whether in the case of the executive over the judiciary, or the Majlis over the executive.

The attorney general claimed that ultimately, a “culture of respect” needed to be created by different branches of the state and government that would allow these different groups to work under the mandates they were assigned.

“That is a constitutional convention that needs to be dealt with. We haven’t had that in the past,” he said.  “It’s just over two years since 2008.  Now a convention takes a little more than two years, but it must nevertheless be started.  The commencement of that respect agenda, that’s what needs to happen.”

Sawad said that he was generally encouraged by findings in the report, which he suggested were “timely” in light of political tensions across the nation, though may have been better served if it had been released a year earlier to grant more room for maneuver (prior to the end of the interim period).

However, the attorney general claimed to be cautiously optimistic that the report would provide guidance to “tweak” the problems that had been experienced in trying to establish courts independent of political and commercial manipulation.

“When you look back at what has happened, it has been a tumultuous two years where the three branches of the state have been morphing into their own jurisdiction perimeters – there have been teething issues, but I think two years is long enough to learn respect,” he said.  “I am more optimistic about the future, I think we have a permanent judiciary now and the role of the judiciary is very clear.”


Supreme Court elections decision clears path for Addu City – Dr Sawad

A Supreme Court decision to allow the election of a municipal council to serve within Addu has effectively ruled in favour of government plans to provide city status to the southerly atoll, Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad has said.

Dr Sawad said that the last minute decision taken yesterday by the Supreme Court to repeal an earlier Civil Court ruling disallowing Addu Atoll to hold city status was final and would not face the scrutiny of any additional appeals after today’s polling.

Elections set to appoint a council to serve a newly formed Addu City were cancelled by the Elections Commission earlier this week by the Civil Court, after it invalidated the criteria established by the Local Government Authority to determine cities.

Dr Sawad said that the Supreme Court had now effectively ruled in favour of the government’s aim to have Addu Atoll recognised as a city.

Haveeru reported that the five Supreme Court judges unanimously ruled that the Civil Court decision to invalid the city criteria had the potential to create conflict in Maldivian society, as well as violate the legal rights of candidates contesting the election in Addu.

Following the Supreme Court order, Elections Commissioner Fuad Thaufeeq recalled an earlier decision to cancel the election in Addu – however it still remains unknown as to how the confusion impacted voter turnout.

The Supreme Court decision was met with criticism from Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, leader of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), who claimed that the party had been severely hindered by the short notice given to participants for the elections.

“It was clearly announced [the Addu elections] would not be today,” he said. “[The decision to hold them] has given the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) an advantage due to their larger finances. We should have had more time to allow constituents to return.”

Thasmeen said that the party would reluctantly follow the ruling of the Supreme Court nonetheless.