Former justice minister slams “judicial dictatorship”

No additional reporting by missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan

The Maldivian judiciary is not functioning as envisioned in the revised constitution adopted in August 2008 and should be reformed, former Justice Minister and former Speaker Ahmed ‘Seena’ Zahir has said in a scathing critique of the justice system.

“If we don’t want an executive dictatorship from a dictatorship, we don’t want a judicial dictatorship either,” the former speaker of parliament reportedly said at a ceremony held on Monday night (September 29) to inaugurate an association of former students of the private Malé English School (MES).

Zahir’s criticism follows the Supreme Court initiating suo moto proceedings against members of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives over its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submission to the UN Human Rights Council.

The Special Majlis constitutional assembly convened to amend the constitution – of which he was a member – did not envision the judiciary “meddling” in executive affairs, Zahir said.

Judges were offered tenure, job security and high pay, he noted.

He added that the judiciary was misinterpreting constitutional provisions while the mandate of judges was limited to conducting trials.

“That should be brought to an end. It won’t come to a halt by jailing those who talk about this. Someone has to raise their voices on behalf of the people,” he said.

Zahir called on the public to exercise the constitutional right to freedom of expression and raise their voices for judicial reform.

The MES senior student association could take up the call as it should be done in an academic and unbiased manner without politicisation, he advised.

Zahir – who served as justice minister in the cabinet of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and participated in the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) presidential campaign last year – suggested that political parties were unwilling to speak out for judicial reform.

He also noted that the judiciary would have to arbitrate and settle commercial disputes under foreign investment laws.

Such laws, however, would not serve its purpose of attracting foreign investment if the judiciary remained unreformed, Zahir contended.

Zahir advised a bipartisan effort to amend the constitution, noting that the ruling PPM and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance had a comfortable majority in the People’s Majlis.

“And their supporters also support amending the constitution,” he said, adding that the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) would also back such an effort as it has been advocating for judicial reform.

However, Zahir said he did not see efforts to reform the judiciary through parliament.

The purpose of amending the constitution should not be “removing A from the post and appointing B,” he added.

Suo moto

Less than two weeks before the parliamentary polls in March, the Supreme Court 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.

At yesterday’s trial against the HRCM members, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain slammed the commission for basing its observation – that the Supreme Court controlled and influenced the judiciary to the detriment of lower courts – on a 2013 report by the UN Special Rapporteur for Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul.

Faiz said the judiciary had rejected Knaul’s report as invalid. In June 2013, the government accused Knaul of undermining the Maldives’ sovereignty and jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, in 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council, of which the Maldives is a member, said it was “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives.”

“The state has admitted that this body’s independence is seriously compromised.  The Committee has said the judiciary is desperately in need of more serious training, and higher standards of qualification,” a statement read.

The Supreme Court in particular needed “radical readjustment,” the committee said. “As 6 of 7 Supreme Court judges are experts in Sharia law and nothing more, this court in particular is in need of radical readjustment.  This must be done to guarantee just trials, and fair judgments for the people of Maldives.”