Opposition parties condemn “dangerous” MDP protest against judiciary

Opposition parties have strongly condemned a protest launched by the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) against the judiciary and Supreme Court last week, warning of “dangerous” consequences for the nation.

At a press conference today, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef argued that with its campaign against the judiciary the ruling party was risking the Maldives becoming “a failed state.”

“We are starting to see in our country scenes similar to what we saw in countries like Rwanda and Uganda which became failed states, plunged into unrest and bloodshed,” he said.

If judges were accused of misconduct or corruption, said Shareef, complaints could be filed at the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the oversight body for the judiciary.

“Trying to undermine the eminence and dignity of the whole judiciary cannot be seen as efforts to reform judges and put the courts back on the right track,” he contended.

The courts, police and Prosecutor General must take “legal action” against those who undermine the judiciary’s honour and prestige, Shareef said.

The DRP was “very concerned” with fears that the “whole system of justice in this country could fail,” he added.

Following the MDP’s national council approving a resolution to protest against the judiciary, DRP put out a joint press statement with its coalition partner Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) condemning the planned protest as an attempt to “influence the judiciary, intimidate judges and bring the courts into disrepute.”

In response to the MDP protest, the newly-formed Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) led by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom organised a demonstration at artificial beach Friday night to protest the MDP’s “intimidation of judges” and vowed to defend the judiciary.

The religiously conservative Adhaalath Party meanwhile issued a press statement yesterday characterising the MDP protest as “a dangerous warning from the MDP to Maldivian citizens who are against its ideology.”

Adhaalath claimed that the “true purpose” of the MDP’s campaign was to “nullify Islamic shariah, introduce common law to the country and bring foreign judges into the Maldivian judiciary.”

Adhaalath also accused the ruling party of using “bribery, undue influence and intimidation” to threaten separation of powers and “bring all the powers of the state into the President’s fist.”

Echoing a criticism made by other opposition parties, Adhaalath criticised police for failing to protect the former President’s residence. “This shows that the police as an institution is shackled by political influences,” the party said.

“Seven idiots”

In its statement, the Adhaalath Party called on the Supreme Court to take action against the President’s advisor Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail for saying at an MDP rally Friday night that the judiciary should be freed from “seven idiots” on the apex court.

Ibra recently filed a defamation case against the Supreme Court after it reprimanded him for calling on the public to “rise up and sort out the judges”.

In response to Ibra’s calls, the Supreme Court and the JSC demanded authorities investigate the former Male’ MP and chairman of the Special Majlis’ constitution drafting committee, claiming that “making such statements in a free, democratic society under lawful governance goes against the principles of civilisation.”

The Supreme Court subsequently issued a writ of prohibition and took over the case against it from the Civil Court, as a result of which, said Ibra, “I now have to go before the Supreme Court and say to them, ‘You have defamed me, now please decide in my favour.'”

Speaking at MDP Haruge on Friday night, Presidential Commission Spokesperson Abdulla Haseen noted that judges were not independent under the former government and had to follow instructions from the President or the Justice Minister on how to issue verdicts.

A majority of judges on the bench today were appointed by the former President and lacked educational qualifications to enforce the new constitution, he argued.

Haseen said the Presidential Commission was reluctant to send cases for prosecution as a number of cases against opposition MPs remained stalled at the Criminal Court for over two years.

MDP MP Mohamed Nazim said the party was powerless to prevent the contentious reappointment of judges without a parliamentary majority.

In August 2010, the JSC reappointed 160 of the judges appointed by the former government, despite a quarter of the bench possessing criminal records and many others with only primary school level education.

The Supreme Court meanwhile sent the President a letter claiming it had ruled itself tenure for life.

“The only thing we were able to do was [include a provision in the Judges Act] stating that lower court judges must obtain a diploma in seven years,” Nazim said.

Nazim accused the courts of partisan behaviour when it summoned Independent MP Ismail Abdul Hameed to court 45 minutes before a crucial vote on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) legislation. Hameed was found guilty of abuse of authority in his position as former director at the Male’ municipality and sentenced to one year’s banishment.

In his remarks, former Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad observed that political parties neglected the development and modernisation of the judiciary during the reform movement that led to the adoption of a liberal constitution and multi-party democracy.

Criticism and civic action was necessary because of the current state of the judiciary and lack of public confidence in the institution, Sawad said, adding that criminalising persons who criticise the judiciary was contrary to “principles of democracy.”

The public should be able to criticise and comment upon court verdicts, individual judges and perceived failings of the judiciary, he insisted.

In May this year, the JSC abolished its Complaints Committee citing “efficiency”, with complaints against judges subsequently forwarded for review by the legal section and Commission Chair Adam Mohamed, a Supreme Court Justice.

Last year the JSC received 143 complaints concerning the conduct of judges. By its own statistics none were tabled in the commission, and only five were ever replied to. Chair of the former complaints commission, Aishath Velezinee, was meanwhile stabbed in the street in January this year.


Mahlouf’s resolution to postpone recess narrowly defeated

A resolution to delay parliament’s upcoming recess at the end of the month, until crucial bills to reform the criminal justice system could be passed, was narrowly defeated today.

Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf had proposed extending the ongoing session until belated bills on evidence law, criminal justice procedure and special measures to combat crime along with amendments to the gang crimes legislation and Children’s Act, could be enacted into law.

Of the 70 MPs in attendance, 34 voted against the resolution while 30 voted in favour and six abstained.

During yesterday’s debate, MPs of both the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and opposition parties argued that parliament’s perceived failure to pass necessary laws was not to blame for the shortcomings of the criminal justice system, particularly the authorities’ collective failure to secure convictions against “dangerous criminals” and enforce jail sentences.

Home Minister Hassan Afeef revealed on Monday that there were “about 300 people” sentenced in absentia that were yet to be taken to jail.

Closing the debate at the penultimate sitting of this year’s first session of parliament, Mahlouf argued that MPs should hasten to pass the legislation if only because “there will no longer be any person or institution that could point the finger at us and say ‘it’s because the People’s Majlis hasn’t completed [necessary laws].'”

Despite the 17th parliament having passed more legislation than any of its predecessors, Mahlouf urged MPs to “accept the reality” that the public did not believe parliament was doing enough.

“[They say] the number of days we work in the Majlis is low,” he said. “I accept this today. We take a holiday for four months of the year. We work about 12 days a month. For a year, it’s about 96 days. We don’t work for about 260 days of the year.”

The DRP MP for Galolhu South noted that none of the MPs opposed to postponing the recess had claimed there was no urgent need for the criminal justice legislation.

After voting on the resolution ended, Speaker Abdulla Shahid informed MPs that completed legislation on special measures to combat crime has been sent for their perusal.

The bill was amended in consultation with law enforcement authorities to include essential provisions from all three belated bills to serve as a stop-gap measure until parliament returned from recess.

Shahid explained that a proposal for a special sitting to be held during the recess in May would be put forward at tomorrow’s final sitting.

MDP MP “Reeko” Moosa Manik raised a point of order to suggest a sitting to be held tomorrow night to pass the crime legislation, but Shahid replied that a decision would be made after discussion with party leaders.

DRP squabbles

Mahouf – who has sided with “Zaeem DRP” against DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali in the ongoing factional strife within the main opposition party – was attacked yesterday by MPs of the rival opposition faction for taking a holiday after submitting the resolution.

While DRP MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem accused Mahlouf of attempting “to pin a medal on himself and claim to be the best,” DRP MP for Mid-Henveiru Ali Azim claimed Mahlouf had taken the most leaves of absence during the past Majlis session.

Mahlouf hit back at Raheem today, claiming that he saw a form the Maafanu West MP had allegedly signed to defect to the MDP before changing his mind in 24 hours.

Moreover, he added, MPs Rozaina Adam and her husband Mohamed Nashiz were yet to return from an official trip to Panama despite MP Mariya Ahmed Didi, Speaker Shahid and Secretary General Ahmed Mohamed having arrived back in the country three days ago.

After attacking Thasmeen and Football Association Chairman Ali Azim for alleged poor attendance and lack of participation in important committee tasks, Mahlouf also exchanged heated words with DRP MP for Mathiveri Hussein Mohamed, who told him “to shut up and sit down.”

Hussein Mohamed argued that since Mahlouf’s resolution stated that a one month holiday should be granted once the “complex and technical” bills were passed, “what if we are only able to go to recess in November, how do we pass the state budget then?”


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.”