The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) shared its Universal Period Review (UPR) report with the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) and sought feedback ahead of submission to the UN Human Rights Council, the commission’s lawyer told the Supreme Court today.
The DJA – which functions under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court – did not respond to the request for commentary on the report or object to its content, the lawyer noted at the first hearing of the trial.
All five HRCM members are on trial after the apex court initiated suo moto proceedings in relation to the UPR report, which suggested that the Supreme Court’s control over the judiciary was undermining powers of lower courts.
At the beginning of the hearing, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain reportedly said that the HRCM’s report contained false and misleading information concerning procedural matters of the judiciary.
The suo moto proceedings – which allows the court to act as both prosecution and judge – were initiated to hold the commission’s members accountable under Article 141 of the Constitution, Article 9 of the Judicature Act, and Supreme Court regulations, the chief justice said.
Article 141(b) states, “The Supreme Court shall be the highest authority for the administration of justice in the Maldives.”
Article 141(c) states, “No officials performing public functions, or any other persons, shall interfere with and influence the functions of the courts,” while section (d) states, “Persons or bodies performing public functions, through legislative and other measures, must assist and protect the courts to ensure the independence, eminence, dignity, impartiality, accessibility and effectiveness of the courts.”
The commission’s attorney Maumoon Hameed explained that each UN member state was required to submit a report for the UPR.
The UPR is a state-driven process that reviews the human rights records of all 193 UN member states every four years, based on submissions by the government, the UN, NGOs and human rights commissions. The Maldives’ review is scheduled to take place in April or May 2015.
In a press release today, the HRCM said it submitted as evidence information regarding the UPR process as well as commentary received from various state institutions.
“At today’s hearing, the commission requested an opportunity to submit further information and evidence,” the press release stated.
“The Supreme Court adjourned today’s hearing. The commission has not yet been informed of a date for the next hearing.”
The next hearing has since been scheduled for 1:30pm on Sunday, September 28.
Noting that Supreme Court decisions could not be challenged as it was the highest court of appeal, Hameed had, however, asked for five working days to prepare a defence.
Control of judiciary
Less than two weeks before the parliamentary polls in March, the Supreme Court had charged Elections Commission Chair Fuwad Thowfeek and Deputy Chair Ahmed Fayaz with contempt of court and dismissed the pair under unprecedented suo moto proceedings.
Subsequent changes to contempt of court regulations made in June authorised courts to penalise individuals for any expression, action, gesture, or piece of writing “inside or outside a courtroom” that could be considered contempt of court.
Meanwhile, in a press statement yesterday, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party noted that under Article 27 of the HRCM Act a case could only be filed against the commission regarding published reports following an inquiry which proves components of the report to have been false.
In its UPR report, the HRCM stated that the Supreme Court’s control of the judiciary was weakening judicial powers vested in lower courts.
“Supreme Court issued a circular ordering all state institutions not to communicate to individual courts regarding any information relating to the judiciary except through the Supreme Court. HRCM is facing difficulties in gathering information related to judiciary due to lack of cooperation,” the report stated.
Moreover, the report noted that “due to shortfalls in judicial system, functioning of the judiciary is often questionable on various grounds including independence, transparency, interference, influence, competency, consistency, and accessibility.”
Through a raft of regulations enacted in recent months, the Supreme Court has sought to consolidate control over administrative affairs of the judiciary.
In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released in May 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, wrote that centralising administrative decisions in the hands of the Supreme Court “has undoubtedly contributed to the strong impression that lower courts are excluded from the administration of justice and decision-making processes.”
The Maldives representative to the UNHRC subsequently accused the special rapporteur of undermining the sovereignty of the country.
Criticism of the Supreme Court’s role in the electoral process by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last October was meanwhile described as “ill-informed” and “irresponsible” by former President Dr Mohamed Waheed.