ICJ says Majlis has “decapitated the country’s judiciary”

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has called this week’s removal of two Supreme Court judges an assault on the independence of the judiciary.

“The Maldivian parliament and executive have effectively decapitated the country’s judiciary and trampled on the fundamental principles of the rule of law and separation of powers in a democratic State,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Director for Asia and the Pacific.

Zarifi went on to call for the reinstatement of Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and Justice Muthasim Adnan, labelling their removal by the People’s Majlis “astonishingly arbitrary”.

The two judges were removed following amendments to the Judicature Act passed last week, requiring a reduction of judges on the Supreme Court bench from seven to five.

After the Majlis approved the changes, the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) recommended the following day (December 11) that Faiz and Adnan be removed. The reasons for the decision have yet to be made known to either the public or the Majlis, which nevertheless voted to remove the judges on Sunday (December 14).

Article 154 of the 2008 Constitution says a judge can only be removed if the JSC finds them guilty of gross incompetence or misconduct.

Established in 1952, the ICJ is formed of 60 judges from around the world who utilise their legal expertise to develop and strengthen national and international justice systems.

“The superficial legislative and administrative maneuvers used to get rid of them [the judges] were grossly unfair and in flagrant violation of the Maldivian Constitution, UN and Commonwealth standards on independence of the judiciary, and the obligations of the Maldives under international law,” read today’s ICJ statement.

Both the Civil Court and private lawyers have unsuccessfully attempted to block the judges’ removal, with the Civil Court saying that the “unconstitutional” decision had the potential to “destroy judicial independence” in the Maldives.

While the Supreme Court ordered that the Civil Court hand over any files related to the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s complaint, the High Court has told private lawyers that it does not have the jurisdiction to rule on the matter.

Meanwhile, Commonwealth institutions have released a statement saying that judicial independence and the rule of law had been “severely jeopardised” by the decision.

Locally, the Maldivian Democracy Network has called the decision “a travesty in the guise of upholding the Constitution”, while Transparency Maldives also expressed concern:

“The impartiality and independence of the Supreme Court is not solely decided by the number of Supreme Court Justices but rather by the upholding of judicial integrity and principles,” said the anti-corruption NGO.

Immediately following his dismissal, Faiz – previously a stern critic of international commentators on judicial reform – said the move raises doubts over the separation of powers and the continuation of judicial independence in the Maldives.

“Today will be written down as a black day in the constitutional history of the Maldives. I state this is a black day for the constitution. Taking such a vote against the constitution is, I believe, disrespectful to the constitution,” he told local media.

The ruling coalition maintains the amendments – which include the breaking up of the High Court into regional bodies – will strengthen the judiciary and facilitate judicial reform.

Related to this story

Majlis removes Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, Justice Muthasim Adnan from Supreme Court

Judicial independence, rule of law “severely jeopardised” in the Maldives, says Commonwealth organisations

Civil Court condemns move to dismiss Chief Justice Faiz and Justice Adnan


International Commission of Jurists raises courts concerns ahead of Maldives report launch

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has told Minivan News that it has serious concerns over the structure and operations of the Maldives judiciary, which are set to be outlined in the findings of a “comprehensive” new report to be released next week.

Roger Normand, director of the ICJ’s Asia Pacific operations said that although he could not reveal specific details of the report ahead of its publication on Monday, a number issues will be raised by the NGO concerning the independence of the Maldives judiciary, as well as the conduct of the government during last year’s constitutional “crisis” over the legitimacy of judges in the country.

The comments were made as institutions such as the country’s High Court are said to effectively be on “hiatus” due to ongoing legal disputes involving the appointment of a bench to oversee its cases – a trial that is currently awaiting a final decision by the country’s Supreme Court .

The appointments issue was initially raised in Civil Court by Criminal Court Judge Abdul Baary over claims that the appointment procedures of the local watchdog body, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), were unjust.

Eventually the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Court did not have the mandate to rule on appointments of a higher authority such as the High Court and that it should therefore have the final say on such a constitutional matter.

In this environment of judicial uncertainty, High Court Chief Judge Abdul Ghani Mohamed told Miadhu today that the issue of completing the bench was a huge challenge for the institution.

However, he claimed that various parties were working on a solution to ensure human rights were not being lost out on due to concerns that the court was “now almost on hiatus” due to the ongoing appointments case.

Forward looking report

Although not wishing to discuss any specifics ahead of the publication of the ICJ report, Normand said that the findings could be expected to detail a number of issues claimed to be specifically at odds with judicial structure and general practice designed to ensure greater transparency in line with the independence of certain courts in Europe and Asia.

“[The findings] are going to be part of a forward looking report for the country, given that you can’t have democracy without strong judiciary,” he said. “It’s essential for all political parties to work towards strengthening an independent judiciary under the framework of the Supreme Court.”

The report’s findings could prove hugely significant for groups such as the JSC that has faced criticism in recent months over their transparency.

The attacks are perhaps more significant in that they come from one of the JSC’s own members in the form of Aishath Velezinee, who now faces internal disciplinary action for her work in leaking details of their operations.

Velezinee, an outspoken critic of the JSC’s refusal to adopt a Standards of Procedure as required by the Constitution, earlier this month accused several fellow members of corruption and treason.

She has published a large cache of JSC documents, including audio recordings of Commission meetings, on her personal website as evidence, she says, to support her accusations.

The JSC last month appointed a special three-member team to decide on the best course of action against JSC member Aishath Velezinee for removing official documents from the Commission’s premises.

The JSC, which is yet to adopt a Standards of Procedure a year after the 26 January 2010 deadline, earlier this month, passed new secrecy regulations that make it an offence for members to reveal any Commission business to the public without prior authorisation.

A number of JSC members contacted by Minivan News were not available for a response at the time of going to press.


ICJ condemns violent assault on Velezinee

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has condemned the violent assault earlier this week on Judicial Service Commission (JSC) member Aishath Velezinee, calling on the government to “immediately launch an independent, impartial, and transparent investigation into this shocking crime.”

Velezinee, President Mohamed Nasheed’s outspoken member on the JSC, was stabbed three times in the back by unidentified assailants on Monday morning while walking in Chandanee Magu in Male’.

“The ICJ is gravely concerned that the attack may be politically motivated. The stabbing took place in daylight in a public space, with no evidence of robbery or theft,” reads a press release issued by the ICJ yesterday.

“Ms. Velezinee’s fearless and controversial advocacy on behalf of justice for ordinary citizens of the Maldives has earned her a constant barrage of verbal attacks from prominent political figures,” said Roger Normand, the ICJ’s Asia Pacific Director. “The government must take swift action, not only to investigate this cowardly stabbing, but equally important, to reaffirm the centrality of rule of law in the new constitutional order.”

After visiting Velezinee at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) shortly after the attack, President Nasheed vowed that “no stone will be left unturned” to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said today that police were not ready to disclose details at this stage of the investigation or confirm if any arrests have been made.

The ICJ notes that Velezinee has publicly criticized the JSC for “abandoning its constitutional mandate under articles 159 and 285 by failing to follow transparent and lawful procedures during the vetting process of the judiciary.”

Article 285 of the constitution mandated the JSC to determine, before 7 August 2010, whether or not the judges on the bench possessed “the educational qualifications, experience and recognized competence necessary to discharge the duties and responsibilities of a judge, [and] high moral character”.

In May 2010, the JSC decided to reappoint all sitting judges unless they have been convicted in court of either a crime with a punishment prescribed in the Quran, criminal breach of trust or treason – a decision that, Velezinee warned at the time, could “rob the nation of an honest judiciary” by giving tenure to 19 judges with either prior convictions by other state institutions or allegations of gross misconduct.

In August, a majority of the 10-member JSC – including MPs of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Speaker Abdulla Shahid and Afrashim Ali, together with the three judges on the commission – decided to reappoint 191 of 197 sitting judges despite Velezinee’s vocal opposition and concerns about the competency and integrity of a number of judges appointed under the former administration.

President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair observed at the time that while two members opposed the move to rush the reappointments – Velezinee and General Public Member Shuaib Abdul Rahman – “a common thread ties all the other eight members. They either belong to the opposition DRP, or they are strong supporters.”

“The outgoing government has made sure it would retain control of institutions like the judiciary,” he noted.

Zuhair explained that while the government was communicating with international institutions on the issue, such as the ICJ, “so far we have been advised to do everything possible to keep to ‘norms and standards’. But that’s difficult when of the 197 judges, only 35 have any recognised qualifications. All the others have a local diploma.”