The Vice Chair of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Didi, attended parliament’s Independent Committees Oversight Committee to answer its queries about the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court and the appointment of the panel of judges hearing the Nasheed trial.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed is being tried for his detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.
Abdulla Didi attended the committee despite the chair of the judicial watchdog, Adam Mohamed, disputing that the JSC was answerable to parliament on the grounds that the summons referred to an “ongoing case”.
Asked if he believed Adam Mohamed had acted legally in unilaterally deciding that the JSC would not abide by the oversight committee’s summons, Abdulla Didi responded that he “will not say that the Chair acted against the law,” and that he “cannot make any comments on the matter.”
“I personally believe that we must be answerable to the oversight committee. That is why I am here today,” he said.
Conflict of Interest
Before discussions on the scheduled topic began, Abdulla Didi requested that Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ali Waheed leave the committee.
Didi said Ali Waheed currently had a case against him in the Criminal Court of which he the judge, and hence he believed there is a conflict of interest to have the MP question him during Thursday’s meeting.
“I wouldn’t have felt any hesitation if all the JSC members were here. But since I am being questioned separately, I don’t think it is a good idea to have someone who has a criminal case against him question me here,” Abdulla Didi said.
Ali Waheed said he believed he was not required to leave the committee as per the constitution, but was willing to do so as it was “ethically the right thing to do.”
Chair of the committee MDP MP Ahmed Sameer informed Abdulla Didi that Ali Waheed had previously informed the committee that he would not be asking any questions from the JSC member, and that he was only participating in the meeting due to the quorum requirements needed to have the meeting.
“Abdulla Didi is here as a JSC member, and not as a Criminal Court Judge. Likewise, it is the citizen Ali Waheed who has a pending case in the court, not the MP for Thohdoo constituency. As there is no conflict when viewed in the light of the capacities in which you both are participating in this meeting, I am of the opinion that MP Ali Waheed is legally allowed to stay and question you. I would like to state here that if Ali Waheed is leaving, it is only out of his personal accord,” Sameer stated.
Later in the meeting, Sameer referred to Ali Waheed’s voluntary exit from the meeting as an example of abstaining from action in cases of conflict of interest, and asked Abdulla Didi why he had not similarly abstained from voting on deciding the panel overseeing Nasheed’s case.
“You are a member of the JSC which voted on choosing judges for the Hulhumale’ Court panel of magistrates. You also serve as a judge in the Criminal Court. The case which this panel is to preside over concerns the Chief Judge of the court you serve under, Judge Abdulla Mohamed. Under these circumstances, why didn’t you abstain from the vote which decided upon magistrates for the Abdulla Mohamed case?” Sameer asked.
“I had no such intentions like what you are implying. The short answer to that question is that we did not decide on the panel to preside on an ‘Abdulla Mohamed case’. It disturbs me when you refer to the case as such,” Didi responded.
“It is a case regarding the arrest of Abdulla Mohamed, in which some other people are accused of having committed criminal acts. The case is about them, not Abdulla Mohamed,” he said, shaking his head.
Sameer also asked about alleged conflict of interest in the vote taken by the JSC to continue running the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court itself.
“JSC Member Ahmed Rasheed, who is the husband of a Hulhumale’ Court Magistrate, was among the members who voted to establish or continue the said court, isn’t he? And you voted, too. This is extremely concerning, and so I repeat: the case concerns the detention of the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court by the then government. You are a judge serving in that court. Rasheed’s wife is a magistrate in the court trying this case. Do you think this decision is impartial under these circumstances?” Sameer asked.
Didi attempted to dodge the question, stating he was unaware how Rasheed had cast his vote. MP Sameer, however stated he had seen the related documents, and informed him that four members had voted, including Rasheed and Abdulla Didi.
Didi still insisted that he “found it difficult” to answer the question, or decide on the validity of the decision.
The Vice Chair of the judicial watchdog stated that as a norm, if a member felt that he had a conflict of interest in any matter that the commission was taking a vote on, he would state the reasons and excuse himself. He further stated that if a member failed to excuse himself, and yet JSC Chair Adam Mohamed believed such a conflict existed, the chair would then point it out and discuss with the relevant member an agreeable way to proceed.
MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor asked if any such issues had arisen during the vote taken to appoint magistrates to the Hulhumale’ Court panel.
“I cannot recall if any members declared any conflict of interest. Nor can I at all remember whether the Chair noticed such a conflict,” Abdulla Didi said.
Didi said that discussion about the panel of judges of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court initially began in the JSC after the then head of the court requested the commission assign judges from other courts to preside in a pending case at the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.
“Once this request came in, we discussed the matter and proposed names for the bench. We then sent these names to the Supreme Court bench, otherwise known as the Judicial Council, for comment. They decided on those names and sent it back to the JSC. This is how the process went,” Didi told the committee.
“This is also completely in line with what the laws state, I refer to Articles 47 to 49 of the Judges’ Act. I might be referring to the previous Judges’ Act. There were some amendments made to it later, which may have changed the order of these articles I quote. I am not sure, I haven’t reviewed it that much,” Abdulla Didi said.
Article 47 of the Judges’ Act states “If a judge is temporarily transferred to preside over a case in a different court, he must be transferred to a court of the same level as the one he is serving in.”
Article 48 states “A judge can be temporarily appointed to another court in the instance that the court is unable to sufficiently complete assigned work, or if the court had difficulties providing services, or if the judges serving in the court has been suspended from their duties, or if other circumstances which may cause a delay in the completion of work assigned to the court occur.”
Article 49 states “It is the Judicial Services Commission, with the counsel of the Judicial Council, which will come to a decision on the transfer of judges to oversee cases in other courts.”
After listening to Abdulla Didi’s version of events, Sameer presented the information previously gathered by the commission.
“The laws state that the JSC has no right to decided on the judges on a panel. Only the head magistrate of the relevant court has the powers to do so,” Sameer said.
“Now, the Chief Magistrate at this court at the time, Huraa Magistrate Moosa Naseem, sent in three names for the panel to JSC asking only for your commission’s comments. The list included his name as well. Can you then tell me what legal right the JSC has to disregard these three names and appoint three completely different magistrates?”
Abdulla Didi said in response: “We at the JSC considered the important cases pending at the Hulhumale’ Court. So we proposed other names with the intention of assigning qualified, experienced judges. I don’t believe this conflicts with any existing laws. What I am saying is, I did not come to any decision. It was after discussion with the other JSC members that we passed it through a vote.”
MDP MP Ahmed Abdulla asked the JSC member why, if the selection was based on merit and experience, the three magistrates proposed by the Hulhumale’ Court had been disregarded while all three were currently serving as chief magistrates of their respective courts.
“Let me explain. According to the Judge’s Act, no judge had the power to bring in judges from other courts to preside on cases. JSC considers the good magistrates in the atoll… That is not to imply that any magistrate is bad at their work, just that because of the nature of this case, we took special care to appoint the most able and appropriate judges who will treat the case with extra care and contemplate the matter deeply,” Abdulla said.
Didi insisted that the JSC that held legal powers to appoint magistrates to the panel, at which point the Chair of the parliamentary committee intervened and advised the judge to refrain from making misleading and non-factual statements.
“I am deeply disturbed that you are making these comments and passing it off ‘as what the law says’. The law says perfectly clearly outlines the role of the chief magistrate, and that if other magistrates are temporarily being brought into a court, they must be from the same judicial jurisdiction,” Sameer intervened.
Didi also claimed the JSC had appointed the panel after the Hulhumale’ Court requested additional magistrates to assist with their work.
However, member appointed from among the public to JSC Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman, who had been interviewed by the committee prior to Abdulla Didi on Thursday, had stated that the request for additional magistrates and other support for the court had come after the appointment of the panel of magistrates.
MP Ghafoor questioned if the bench had been appointed after Nasheed’s case had been referred to the Hulhumale’ Court, to which Didi replied in the affirmative.
Asked if Didi was aware that one of the magistrates appointed to the bench had allegations of disciplinary issues, sexual offences and corruption against him, he responded that he was not aware of such a case.
When MDP MP Rugiyya Mohamed said JSC Member Sheikh Rahman had confirmed that indeed such an allegation was being looked into by the commission, Abdulla Didi then responded that he had heard such rumours via media and had asked administrative staff to look into the matter.
He later said he “did not believe any of the magistrates on the bench would have done anything of the sort.”
“I cannot confirm whether such a matter exists. The thing is, if we are to consider an allegation or a complaint, there has to be some solid reasons that should support the allegation, whether it be proved or not. If it is a solid and believable allegation, then I might not agree to have him on the bench,” he continued.
“I don’t think just being alleged of anything is reason enough to remove any magistrate from the bench. The allegation itself must carry some weight. However, such allegations can only be cleared once the relevant authority investigates it. So, I do believe any such investigations must be expedited. I don’t see any reason why such a magistrate cannot sit on the panel in the meantime.”
Is the Hulhumale court legitimate?
Asked directly whether Abdulla Didi believed the court to be a legitimate entity, he answered, “I am not saying it is a legitimate court. Then again, nor I am I saying it is illegitimate. All I can say is I don’t believe it will be liquidated.”
“I think the JSC cannot establish a court through a vote. I can’t really recall the law too well at this moment, but the JSC certainly cannot form a court,” Abdulla Didi confirmed in response to a question posed by Sameer.
Sameer then asked if the Vice Chair of JSC had cast his vote on the matter of forming the Hulhumale’ Court.
“That’s a huge misunderstanding. We never voted to form a court. We voted to establish that, in accordance with the laws, the Hulhumale’ Court will not be automatically cancelled. The court was in existence even before [the vote],” Abdulla Didi answered.
However, Sameer challenged Abdulla Didi’s statement. He stated that in 2007, the President’s Office had created an administrative office called the Hulhumale’ Courts Section, and not a court, saying that the existence of a magistrate court in Hulhumale’ is not noted on any paperwork.
“We have documents proving that after the ratification of the Judicature Act, that under a decision of the JSC itself, the budget, stamp and even staff of this Hulhumale’ Court Section office were transferred to the Family Court in Male’. And then, out of the blue, your commission decided there is a Magistrate Court in Hulhumale’,” Sameer stated.
“You are aware that a case against the Hulhumale’ Court was filed in a lower court. The JSC then referred it to the Supreme Court. Then JSC Chair Adam Mohamed, who is a Supreme Court Judge, cast the deciding vote on the case. Do you believe this was conducted in due process?” Sameer asked.
Abdulla Didi refused to answer the question on the grounds that he could comment on a decision of the Supreme Court. He said “there is no way I can call that a bad ruling.”