Judicial Service Commission (JSC) is set to face another court battle after attorneys representing Chief Judge of High Court Ahmed Shareef announced on Thursday that they would challenge the commission’s decision to suspend the judge.
Chair of JSC, Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed, had earlier held a press conference declaring the commission had decided to “indefinitely suspended” Chief Judge Shareef, over a complaint filed against the judge last year.
That decision came hours after the High Court temporarily halting the hearings of a case against the JSC lodged by former President Nasheed – who has accused the judicial watch-dog of exceeding its mandate in appointing the three-member judges panel to the Hulhumale Magistrate Court currently hearing a criminal case against him.
According to the JSC Chair, the suspension of Chief Judge Shareef – who is among the three judges presiding over the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed’s case – was a “precautionary” measure while investigation of the complaint was proceeding.
Judge Shareef in the new Civil Court lawsuit against the JSC will be represented by former Attorney General and veteran lawyer Husnu Al Suood and his law firm, Suood, Anwar and Co.
Briefing the media about the court case which is set to be filed on Sunday, Suood said that Chief Judge Shareef was suspended in contrast with the existing laws and the decision undermines the independence a Judge requires in executing his legal duties.
He said the Chief Judge’s team of counsels will plead in court that the decision by the JSC was an attempt to unduly exercise influence over judges.
He also added that once the case is registered at the Civil Court, a request will be made at the Supreme Court to take over the case, as has been the previous practice.
The Supreme Court previously took over the case filed at Civil Court by prominent lawyer Ismail Wisham against the JSC, challenging the legitimacy of the Hulhumale Magistrate Court it created.
The case was also represented by Suood, which eventually led to the Supreme Court endorsing the legitimacy of the controversial court in a 4 to 3 majority decision in which Chair of JSC and Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed cast the controversial deciding vote, despite initial pleas against the judge sitting on the bench by Suood on the ground of ‘presumption of bias’.
“Not a small thing”
Speaking of the JSC’s decision, Suood – who is also the President of Maldives Bar Association – said the suspension coming after the JSC sitting’s on the case for a year was “not a small thing”.
“That is not a small thing when you get a suspension after one year. Suspending a country’s Chief Judge of High Court is not a small thing,” he said.
JSC Chair Adam Mohamed has meanwhile said “there are no legal grounds to stop looking into a complaint submitted [to the commission] or halt proceedings”.
According to local media reports, the call for an indefinite suspension of the Chief Judge was proposed to the JSC by the incumbent Attorney General Aishath Bisham – who is yet to receive parliament’s consent following her appointment – and was passed by the vote of three members out of the 10-member commission.
Those who voted in favour included two representatives of the executive branch, the attorney general herself, the President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s representive Mohamed ‘Reynis’ Saleem, and a third vote by Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Didi.
The public’s member to the JSC Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman opposed the motion while lawyers’ eepresentative Ahmed Rasheed and Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chair Mohamed Fahmy Hassan abstained. High Court Judge Abdulla Hameed did not participate in the vote.
Both the Speaker of parliament Abdulla Shahid and Parliament’s representee to the commission MP Gasim Ibrahim did not attend the meeting.
Politically motivated and influenced
Suood said the JSC’s passing of a motion to suspend the judge with a vote of just three members – two of whom represented the executive – lead to presumption that the vote had been influenced.
He said that such a grave motion being passed by the support of just three members also led to the belief that the JSC was seeking to undermine the independence of the judges.
“There is reason to believe this decision had political motives behind it,” said the veteran lawyer.
Suood further said the decision could also be perceived as a way to prevent a further delay of the case filed by Nasheed, who is contesting the legality of the three-member judges panel appointed to Hulhumale Magistrate Court by the JSC.
“The JSC is one party to the ongoing High Court case of which Chief Judge Shareef is among the judges who presiding over the case. It is wrong in every aspect for JSC to take action against the judge,” he said. “Due to such actions, public confidence in state institutions is being lowered day by day.”
“Entire judiciary under the influence of retired Supreme Court Judge Mujthaaz Fahmy” – Suood
Suood also alleged that two parliament members and a retired Supreme Court judge have long been influencing the work of judges and their verdicts on several cases.
Suood claimed 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.
He further contested that his allegations were based on evidence, and said he would do everything possible to make the judiciary free from such undue influences.
“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.
Despite claiming to have strong evidence to support his allegations, Suood admitted that it would be extremely difficult for the authorities to take action against the three individuals.
JSC juggling judges to appease politicians
Suood further contended that the JSC had been taken over “dark powers”, and that it was fully under the control of certain political figures.
He alleged that in a bid to serve the interests of a few politicians, the JSC was planning to juggle judges from court to court and even had planned to give salary increments to certain judges.
Among the planned switches, Suood claimed that Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed – who was taken into military detention during former President Nasheed’s administration over allegations of gross judicial misconduct – is set to be transferred to Civil Court, while JSC member and Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Didi will become the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court.
Among other changes, Suood claimed that JSC had been working to transfer the two “best serving” Civil Court Judges – Judge Aisha Sujoon and Judge Mariyam Nihayath to the Drug Court.
“These things are carried out under a great plan. They are installing judges to courts as they please,” Suood said.
All the three individuals accused by Suood have dismissed the allegations in responses given to local media.
Speaking at a membership event held in PPM’s headquarters on Friday night, PPM’s presidential hopeful Yameen Abdul Gayoom denied the allegations, describing them as an “outright lie”.
“The JSC is taking action against a judge. They don’t have judges sitting on the JSC. Therefore I do not believe anyone can influence the JSC,” Yameen said.
He further expressed his frustration over the allegations claiming that it had become common for people to make erroneous and slanderous remarks against political figures.
“This would not have happened if defamation had been kept as a criminal offence. All this is happening because defamation has now been changed to a civil wrong,” he said.
He further said that even though he did not influence judges and their work, he admitted to speaking about lapses within the judiciary and the delaying of cases on public forums.
“It would be better for Suood to stop making such irresponsible comments and focus on working for his clients,” Yameen responded.