JSC condemns police interference

The Judicial Service Commission [JSC] yesterday issued a statement condemning the interference of police in its efforts to reappoint 160 judges before the August 7 deadline.

‘’This action of Maldives Police Services obstructed the duty given to the commission under article 285 of the Constitution, and the act violated article number 13 of the police law,’’ said the JSC’s statement. “Therefore, we strongly condemn the act of police.’’

A statement from the Maldives Police Service (MPS) said the office was closed by police at the request of President Mohamed Nasheed, to prevent “unlawful and unconstitutional work from taking place.”

In an interview with Minivan News, JSC member Aishath Velezinee said the commission was failing in its role as an oversight body and had not examined any of the 71 complaints submitted this year, and was instead protecting the interests of  several individual judges, thus “robbing the nation of an honest judiciary.”

It was in the interest of certain elements in parliament, who were members of the former government, to retain the judiciary appointed by the former administration, she explained.

“What they are doing right now is going to kill the Constitution,” she told Minivan News last week, urging parliament’s Independent Commission Committee (ICC) to issue an injunction against the reappointments while an investigation was conducted.

In its statement yesterday, the Commission claimed that “under article number 285 [b] [d] of the Constitution it is the duty of the commission to reappoint judges within the time of two years. That deadline is August 7.’’

The JSC said it had “included the opinion” of members of the commission who disputed the criteria for reappointing judges – according to Velezinee, many of whom have only primary school levels of education –  “and now we are following a criterion that was approved by nine present members of the commission.”

‘’Under the amended criteria, 160 judges were approved by the members of the commission [who were] present,’’ the statement added.

The JSC has 10 members.

Speaker Abdulla Shahid told MPs today that the Majlis would hold a special sitting on Saturday to settle matters relating to the transition period, on the day of the stipulated deadline.


Letter to the Judicial Services Commission: Ibra’s blog

“It appears that the JSC has taken it unto themselves to go ahead and appoint judges for life without laws that direct them on the standards expected of judges, or the number of courts that should be established, the jurisdicitions of various courts, the tenure of judges for the first fifteen years of the new constitution etc.” writes the chairman of the drafting committee of the current Maldivian constitution, Ibrahim Ismail, in his personal blog.

Read more (Dhivehi and English)


Government to Continue Fight against Corruption: President Nasheed

“Many people were ready for direct action to show the level of their disapproval of corruption,” said President Nasheed today in his weekly radio address. “Government, therefore, is forced to take swift measures, and do whatever possible to find a solution for corruption.”

The President was commenting on the recent political turmoil in Male where senior opposition figures in the Majlis were charged with bribery and treason, and then released by Supreme Court judges. A Criminal Court judge suspended the police prosecutors.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the Maldivian Democratic Party, of which Presdient Nasheed is a leading member, staged demonstrations in the capital calling for an end to corruption, and condemning the decisions of the judges.


Supreme Court judges’ appointments not temporary: Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed

The appointment of judges to the Supreme Court is permanent, claims Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed in a letter to President Nasheed.

The receipt of the letter has been confirmed by the President’s Office press secretary Mohamed Zuhair who said the letter included legal points on expelling judges from the courts. “Such letters by the judiciary will be received by the President with special attention,” he said.

The legal points raised by the chief judge are being studied by the President’s Office’s legal team, said Zuhair, and when the legal team presents its conclusions, the President will make a decision on the letter.


JSC amends criteria for judicial appointments

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) has issued a statement amending the educational and experience criteria for the appointment of judges.

Judges appointed to courts in Male’ must have either a degree, masters degree or PhD in Islamic Shariah, law or Shariah law, and at least three years/two years/six months experience in a law-related field, depending on their respective level of qualification.

President Nasheed’s member on the JSC, Aishath Velezinie, said the criteria did not apply for existing judges and would only affect new appointments, a condition not mentioned in the JSC’s press statement.

“Of the 207 of the judges currently in office, 39 have degrees or higher. Some left school before grade seven, meaning they haven’t completed primary school,” she noted.

“The rest have certificates that were tailor-made to familiarise them with the previous constitution. Judges do not have the means, resources or access to knowledge to enforce the current constitution, and this [statement] looks like a way of confusing people into thinking that the JSC is addressing the issue.”

President Mohamed Nasheed recently made an official request to the JSC to review and amend the guidelines governing the educational qualifications of judges, criticising the existing criteria as setting the bar too low.

“For the standard to determine educational qualification, they are saying [judges must possess] a certificate in either law or Shariah, and even if the certificate is not accredited by the Maldives Accreditation Board, it must be a certificate of at least level three or higher accepted by the government”, he said.

The minimum educational qualification for judges approved by the JSC was therefore “essentially grade seven”.

The Judges Association of Maldives (JAM) condemned President Mohamed Nasheed criticism of the JSC decision on determining guidelines for the reappointment of sitting judges, warning his interference could “render the separation of powers obsolete”.

Velezinie meanwhile said she had hope that all sides of parliament would come together to address the matter.

The JSC had not responded to Minivan News at time of press.


Tensions escalate between executive and judiciary

The Judges Association of Maldives (JAM) has condemned President Mohamed Nasheed’s criticism of the Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC) decision on determining guidelines for the reappointment of sitting judges as “disrespectful towards the honour and dignity of judges” and indicative of the “negative view he holds of the judiciary”.

A press release issued by the association last week accuses the president of attempting to cast undue influence over the Judicial Service Commission by calling for amendments to the eligibility criteria approved last month, an act which could “render separation of powers obsolete”.

Article 285(b) of the constitution stipulates that the JSC shall determine whether or not sitting judges possess the qualification of judges specified in article 149 before August 7 2010.

The article states that judges must possess “educational qualifications, experience and recognised competence to discharge the duties and responsibilities of a judge, and must be of high moral character.”

On May 9, the JSC voted to approve as minimum standards to determine “high moral character” that judges must not have been convicted in a court of law of an offence with a punishment prescribed in the Quran, criminal breach of trust or bribery.

Following the 5-2 vote, Aishath Velezinie, President Nasheed’s member on the JSC, characterised the contentious decision as “nothing less than treason to rob the people of an honest judiciary.”

Velezinie warned that the decision could effectively give tenure to 19 judges found guilty of various offences by state institutions such as the former Anti-Corruption Board.

Two days later, the commission approved guidelines for determining educational qualifications, experience and competence.

In his radio address on May 28, President Nasheed said he believed the JSC decision could hinder the commission’s mandate of ensuring public confidence in the judiciary.

The decision was “worrying” as records showed that judges found guilty by the relevant authorities under the old constitution, or who had faced criminal prosecution and allegations of gross misconduct, were currently on the bench.

“Grade seven standard”

President Nasheed criticised the criteria for educational qualifications as setting the bar too low.

“For the standard to determine educational qualification, they are saying [judges must possess] a certificate in either law or Shariah, and even if the certificate is not accredited by the Maldives Accreditation Board, it must be a certificate of at least level three or higher accepted by the government”, he said.

Hence, he added, the minimum educational qualification for judges approved by the JSC was essentially “grade seven”.

According to the guidelines approved by the commission, said Nasheed, sitting judges would be eligible for reappointment if they have not been convicted in court of 29 criminal offences decided upon by the JSC.

The JSC also decided that sitting judges would be deemed to possess the requisite experience.

Nasheed said the criteria to determine experience and educational qualification was “inappropriate” for contemporary Maldivian society.

Moreover, taking the lack of convictions as enough to determine high moral character was “not ideal.”

An official request has been made with the JSC to review and amend the guidelines, he said.

The JSC consists of the speaker of parliament, an MP and a member of the general public appointed by parliament; a judge each from the Supreme Court, High Court and the trial courts; a practicing lawyer elected by licensed lawyers; the Chair of the Civil Service Commission; a member appointed by the president and the Attorney General.

Justice Fahmy

A statement issued by the JSC before the president’s address defended the decision as both “within the bounds of article 149” and “very fair”.

The statement signed by Justice Mujthaz Fahmy, president of the JSC, notes that differences of opinion among members only emerged over the criteria for determining high moral character.

It adds that the reappointment of judges as stipulated by article 285 was very different from the normal process of appointing or dismissing judges and magistrates.

Moreover, the commission believes the decision will “draw criticism no matter how fair it was.”

The statement goes on to condemn “efforts by certain groups to dishonour the judiciary and strip judges of their honour and dignity.”

“The commission is extremely concerned as such actions could undermine the independence of the judiciary and adversely affect society,” it reads.

While the creation of the JSC was delayed until July 26, 2009 due to “various legal problems” and its members do not work full-time, the statement assures that the commission was working “sincerely, truthfully and in line with the constitution” to fulfil its responsibilities.

“Abuse of power”

However, writing in her personal blog, Velezinie claims the statement was issued “in violation of clause 4(d) of the commission’s rules of procedure and article 163 of the constitution” as it solely represented Fahmy’s personal views.

Justice Mujthaz Fahmy had refused to either allow further discussions on the guidelines or vote on amendments, she writes.

As Fahmy was among the 19 judges with prior convictions, Velezinie claims, he faces a conflict of interest on the issue of judges’ tenure and reappointment.

Moreover, while the Supreme Court Justice was also the chair of both standing committees of the commission, the complaints committee has not been convened as of May 1.

Fahmy replaced High Court Judge Abdul Gani Mohamed as President of the JSC on February 21 when the latter was removed by a ruling from three Judges of the High Court.

Velezinie reveals that although a committee consisting of the three judges on the commission was tasked in August 2009 with formulating a draft of the guidelines for reappointment, the full committee only met once as Fahmy did not attend the second meeting.

Meanwhile, the “285 Standards Committee” formed after Gani’s expulsion and chaired by Civil Service Commission President Dr Mohamed Latheef met on three days and drafted the final guidelines during meetings that each lasted half an hour.

The sub-committee, consisting of Judges Adam Mohamed Abdullah and Abdullah Didi from the JSC as well as Chief Judge of the Juvenile Court Shuaib Hussein Zakariya and Civil Court Judge Abdullah Ali, did not consider either the previous proposals or “the purpose and spirit of the constitution and the objective of article 285.”

She adds that Fahmy’s actions were “extremely worrying” as it could cast doubt over the independence of both the JSC and the judiciary.

Moreover, Velezinie continues, failure to provide agendas and minutes of meetings to members as required by law “facilitates corruption in the commission.”

“The Judicial Service Commission, and along with it the courthouse and judges, will only gain public trust when it proves to the people with words and deeds that it is an institution that is independent from the three powers,” she entreats. “Instead of hiding behind law certificates and making decisions based on self-interest and one’s own views, [the commission has to] put national interest and public welfare first.”


JSC decision must be investigated by Parliament, urges member

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) decided last week to reappoint all current judges, regardless of whether they hold a previous conviction for a crime or a criminal breach of trust or bribery.

After the decision was made, member of the commission Aishath Velazinee spoke out against it, writing in her blog, “it is indeed a sad state of affairs, and an insult to all those honest judges whose integrity and good name is compromised by today’s decision.”

Today, Velazinee told Minivan News it might seem like “one mad woman screaming,” but insisted “the Majlis has to attend to this and demand a public inquiry. I can only bring it to public attention.”

She said “Parliament has failed to hold the JSC accountable,” and said she still “firmly believes” the composition of the commission presents a conflict of interest, leading to a vote that ultimately contradicting the purpose of the commission.

The JSC was created to reform the judiciary and investigate all judges, “and was asked to evaluate every single sitting judge appointed prior to the 2008 Constitution,” Velazinee said.

According to the Constitution, the nine-member commission must comprise of the speaker of parliament; an MP and a member of the public both appointed by Parliament; three judges, one from the Supreme Court, High Court and the trial courts; a private lawyer elected among licensed lawyers; the Chair of the Civil Service Commission (CSC); a person appointed by the President; and the Attorney General.

“The JSC was not functioning under the law of the Constitution, and not acting in the interest of the public,” said Velazinee, who is the President’s member on the Commission.

She suggested it be made up of a “cross-section of people in this country, who are educated and have an understanding of democracy.”

Last week’s decision was won by majority, with five votes in favour.

“They have decided Article 285 is symbolic,” Velazinee said, “it is a very simplistic view of democracy.”

Article 285 stipulates that the JSC shall determine before August 7, 2010 whether or not judges on the bench posses the qualifications specified by the Constitution.

Currently, there are seven judges found guilty of a criminal breach of trust; five with allegations of a criminal breach of trust; two are being prosecuted for an alleged breach of trust; one is on trial for sexual misconduct; two have been found guilty of sexual misconduct; one was found guilty for an offence which had a prescribed punishment in Islam; and another judge who has been accused of a criminal breach of trust, and found guilty of sexual misconduct.

That is a total of nineteen judges with a criminal history, most of which have not been tried in a court of law.

Velazinee said she was not given an opportunity to discuss or issue alternative proposals, even though she had been trying to bring attention to her argument for months. “Even the Superior Court Justice decided it was not worthy,” she added.

Parliament’s power

Parliament has the power to reverse or alter the JSC’s decision, “but now they’re in recess, too,” Velazinee said, noting probably nothing much can be done until the Majlis reconvenes in mid-June.

Adding to Velazinee’s concern, the JSC has only until 7 August of this year to submit any reforms and all cases on the judges. “And probably not even until the deadline,” she added.

She said although the president “would normally have a say” in this decision, “in the current political context, the president getting involved could do more harm.”

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said “there are legalities to be considered” because “the law does stipulate a clause on limitations,” which says that a judge, or an MP or a citizen, “can be absolved of a crime after five years” of being convicted.

He added “judges should be examples” and new regulations and legislation should be considered.

Zuhair said President Mohamed Nasheed “will adhere to the Constitution,” and there is “nothing to do until Parliament comes back.”

But, he added, a parliamentary committee could look into the issue extraordinarily, just like the National Security Committee is having a sitting this Wednesday.

Judges Abdulla Mohamed and Abdulla Didi did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

Attorney General Husnu Suood did not respond, either.