Comment: Is the President serious about reforming the judiciary?

Has Anni given up the fight for an independent judiciary?

“We will reform the JSC”, President Nasheed said in May.

“When the powers were separated and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) became the executive we came into a situation where the previous regime had a majority in the parliament.

“But in many minds the situation with the judiciary was far more worrying. Nothing had changed – we had exactly the same people, the same judges, the same manner of thinking and of dispensing justice.”

On Wednesday he appointed as his member at the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) Kurendhoo Hussein Ibrahim, a man who first came to public attention during the drafting of the 2008 Constitution as someone vigorously apposed to gender equality.

As a member of the Special Majlis, Hussein Ibrahim was vociferously opposed to the appointment of women as judges, and was particularly vitriolic in his comments against changing the Constitution to allow women to run for office of the President.

“He was very clear about where women should be in society – in a place where they have no say in the running of public affairs,” a senior member of the law community, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Minivan News.

“To be honest, I am very surprised that the President would appoint such an individual as Velezinee’s replacement,” he said.

Aishath Velezinee was the President’s Member at the JSC until 19 May this year, when she was unceremoniously removed from the position. Although there were unconfirmed reports, including in this newspaper, about a backroom deal that made her removal politically advantageous for MDP, neither President Nasheed nor Velezinee have so far spoken publicly about the reasons for her removal.

Hussein Ibrahim’s views are diametrically opposed not just to Velezinee’s, but also that of a President who frequently espouses his commitment to the democratic ideal of equality and non-discrimination.

The President’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, said Hussein Ibrahim might have distanced himself from such hard-line views since he sat on the Special Majlis for redrafting the Constitution.

“It is quite possible that he has changed,” Zuhair said. Pressed on the question of whether he knew this for a fact, Zuhair said, “We believe that in accepting the position as the President’s Member, he is entering into a ‘social pact’.”

“It is our hope”, Zuhair said, “that he will work towards the realisation of the President’s goals and to further his views in his new job.”

Even if Hussein Ibrahim, seemingly appointed on a wing and prayer, does show himself capable of leaving behind his misogyny, there is still the question of his professional ability to push a reform agenda.

A misogynist with a sentencing certificate

Hussein Ibrahim has no formal qualifications and is one of the many ‘lawyers’ allowed to sit on the bench on the basis of a Sentencing Certificate – a legacy of the Gayoom era. Having served as a magistrate in two different lower courts, he later did a stint as an ‘Islam Soa’ at Aminiya School.

In other words, he is a member of the very same brigade of “exactly the same people, the same judges, the same manner of thinking and of dispensing justice” President Nasheed said he wanted removed from the judiciary.

Removing unqualified judges was a Constitutional requirement, stipulated by Article 285. Put in charge of carrying out the task, however, the JSC dismissed Article 285 as “symbolic” and allowed all but a handful of the unqualified judges to remain in the judiciary. The President has now appointed just such a man to represent him at the JSC.

Hussein Ibrahim’s presence at the JSC means that female members of the judiciary, few in number but who as a group represent the most qualified judges in the country, now have another man overseeing them who not only thinks they are biologically and intellectually inferior to him, but also knows less about the law than they do.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), which in February this year published a highly critical report on the JSC, pointed to members’ lack of technical ability and knowledge as one reason for its inability to do its job of ensuring the judiciary’s ethical and professional standards.

Citing ‘administrative efficiency’, as the reason, the JSC abolished the Complaints Committee in May this year. It was the mechanism by which the JSC was to have investigated complaints against the judiciary.

The JSC’s 2010 annual report shows there are over 200 complaints – some involving judges at the country’s highest courts – that are yet to be investigated. Any attempts to force the JSC to investigate complaints using the courts system have so far been unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, any criticism of the judiciary is becoming increasingly difficult as the courts gag the media, or issue threats against those who speak against its actions – even when they are clearly unconstitutional.

Recent examples include the Criminal Court’s decision to ban the media from Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim’s alleged corruption hearings and the Supreme Court’s reprimanding of President’s Advisor Ibrahim Ismail (Ibra) for urging the public to fight for their right to an independent judiciary.

What is even more shocking is that the JSC convened an emergency meeting to discuss Ibra’s remarks where members agreed to ask ‘relevant authorities’ to investigate Ibra.

The JSC is constitutionally mandated to investigate complaints against the judiciary made by members of the public. It has no authority to investigate complaints against members of the public made by the judiciary.

Clearly the JSC needs someone who, at the very least, knows what its own role is.

As seen in the case of Velezinee, who was stabbed in the back in January this year, fighting for judicial reform is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.

Hussein Ibrahim is a religious conservative who thinks women should be covered up and chained to the kitchen sink when they are not occupied with the holy task of breeding. He has no record of pushing a democratic agenda, and has no formal qualifications in any profession. It is hard to imagine him taking on the JSC let alone the judiciary.

Which begs the question: is President Nasheed serious about reforming the judiciary?

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