JSC reappoints 59 judges in ceremony, evicts Velezinee

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) last night reappointed 59 sitting judges, including all but two of the judges currently serving in Male’ courts, swearing them during a closed-door oath-taking ceremony in the Supreme Court.

Minivan News understands that three members of the 10 member JSC were present during the oath-taking ceremony, including two members who were taking the oath as sitting judges, and opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Afrasheem Ali.

A senior staff member of the JSC today told Minivan News he had been unaware the ceremony was taking place until he saw media reports, but said he felt there were “no legal issues” blocking the reappointments.

Meanwhile, President’s member of the Commission Aishath Velezinee, who has criticised the issuing of tenure to those judges appointed under the former administration as “robbing the nation of an honest judiciary”, claims she was locked outside the ceremony after attempting to intervene when she learned it was taking place.

Prior to being locked outside, Velezinee took to the podium and called on any judges who supported her position not to take the oath of office, however none did so.

“I don’t think the international community is going to accept that this is legitimate,” she said. “They locked members of the JSC out. The only ones present were Dr Afrasheem Ali and two judges on the commission, who took the oath themselves.”

People’s member on the Commission, Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman, also objected to the JSC’s action, stating in an interview with Television Maldives (TVM) that while he supported reappointing judges and training them to improve their standard, he did not endorse granting life tenure to judges who did not meet the requirements.

Head of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Supreme Court Justice Mujthaz Fahmy, answered his phone but did not respond to questions from Minivan News. His phone was subsequently switched off.

Parliament was due to debate a bill on judges in a special sitting of parliament on Saturday, to coincide with the constitutional deadline for reappointments of August 7.

Velezinee contends that parliament’s Independent Commissions Committee (ICC) did not issue an injunction against the reappointment pending investigation of her complaint that the JSC’s behaviour was contravening the Constitution, thus giving the JSC the opportunity to rush the appointments through before the passing of the bill.

Speaker Abdulla Shahid did not respond to calls today. But in a text message reportedly sent to Velezinee last night, Shahid expressed his “deep disappointment” that the event was organised without consulting him, and despite his request to Mujthaz Fahmy that the reappointments be held until Saturday after the bill on judges had been adopted.

According to the Constitution once tenured, judges can only be removed following allegations of gross misconduct and a two-thirds majority vote in parliament, the same number required to impeach the President or Vice President.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said the government “regretted” the JSC’s decision to reappoint judges behind closed doors while the Majlis was “actively discussing and debating a decision on the bill on judges for the 7th, and despite this being communicated to the JSC.”

Zuhair claimed that as a consequence the reappointments were “not credible at all to a large section of society – and the whole point of the exercise was to establish credibility.”

The activities of the JSC were “legally questionable” Zuhair added, “and the government intends to follow up on it. Today we have received complaints that the commission has contravened the Constitution.”

Zuhair observed that while two members opposed the move to rush the reappointments – Velezinee and Sheikh Shuaib – “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 International Committee of Jurists (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.

“We can’t dismiss the other 150 judges, because that would only leave 35 to take care of the rest of the country. There has to be a middle ground,” Zuhair suggested.

The government was working on “attractive” overseas training and retirement packages for judges, he added.


Comment: Call for JSC to explain itself is a JUST cause

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) is mandated by Article 285 of the Constitution to determine whether or not the Judges in office at the commencement of the Constitution, possess the qualification of judges specified in Article 149.

The Constitutional deadline for this to take place, August 7, 2010, is now nearly upon us.

Article 285 no doubt provides the country with a unique opportunity to further strengthen the Maldivian Constitution and Democracy by ensuring that the Judiciary and ensure that it is an institution which enjoys the trust and confidence of the Maldivian people.

The successful consolidation of democracy and the protection of Human Rights granted in the second chapter of the Constitution depend on the country not letting this opportunity pass it by.

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on May 11 released a statement specifying the criteria for evaluating the eligibility of judges under Article 149 of the Constitution. The criteria have caused much consternation and concern among various sectors of society. While some have questioned the appropriateness of the educational standard set in the criteria by the Commission, others, including this organisation, have been particularly worried about the Commission’s interpretation of the term ‘high moral character’ stipulated in Article 149 of the Constitution as a necessary attribute for Judges.

According to a press release by the JSC on the 27th 26th of May 2010, the only criterion for evaluating whether a Judge meets the ‘high moral character’ stipulation is whether the Judge has been convicted in a Court of Law of an offence for which a hadd is prescribed in Islam, criminal breach of trust, or bribery.

If the a Judge has any other criminal convictions in a Court of Law for an offence not specified in Article 149(b)3, then s/he will be reviewed by the JSC before a decision on his/her eligibility is made.

This decision by the JSC raises some interesting questions to which this organisation feels the JSC should provide the Maldivian people with answers.

1) What does ‘being convicted’ mean?

Under the previous Constitution not all criminal cases would necessarily be taken to a court of law. It would have been possible for a case to be investigated, decided and punished and decided by other authorities such as the Justice Ministry, Anti-Corruption Board and the President’s Office.

Does this then mean that Judges with such convictions who have had their cases decided in such a manner (if there are any) would still satisfy the ‘high moral character’ stipulation? The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) wrote to the JSC in the public interest on three occasions requesting information on the criminal records of Judges under the Right to Information enshrined in Article 29 of the Constitution.

MDN is yet to receive a response to this request from the JSC. In the absence of such information, it is all the more imperative that the criteria used by the JSC ensure the trust of the public in the Judiciary.

2) What of those judges who have had criminal cases filed against them in courts by the Attorney General (under the previous Constitution) and the Prosecutor General (under the current Constitution) but were not convicted in court?

Is it unreasonable for the people to demand that such allegations warrant not disqualification but at least a review of the case by the JSC to ensure that the Judge in question meets the ‘high moral character stipulation’?

3) What of those Judges who have cases pending against them at the JSC itself?

Is it not appropriate that the JSC review and decide these cases before deciding whether the Judge in question meets the ‘high moral character’ requirement?

MDN has brought together a coalition of 12 concerned NGOs (Madulu, Maldives Aid, Maldives NGO Federation, Huvadhoo Aid, Maldives Youth Action Network, Strength of Society, Rights for All, Huvadhoo Association for National Development, Society for Women Against Drugs, Journey, Nadella Island Development Society) who have launched the Just (Insaaf) Campaign, calling on the JSC to address concerns regarding the criteria. The petition drive launched by the Campaign is now underway in Male’ and some Atolls.

The Just Campaign urges all concerned citizens to read the petition (available at www.mvdemocracynetwork.org) and if you agree with it, send in signed copies to MDN (fax: 330 2598, email: [email protected]).

The Campaign also has tables at the main entrance to the Carnival in Male’ and on Boduthakurufaanu Magu behind Dharubaaruge. The tables will be in place until Thursday June 10 from 1630 to 2230hrs.

The JSC has been mandated with one of the most crucial tasks to be performed during the transitional period. The Maldivian people now look to the Commission to ensure a Judiciary in which they can trust and a Judiciary which can protect the tenets of Islam, the principles of democracy and the basic rights of the Maldivian people.

No democracy can function effectively if there is a deficit of trust between the people and any of the three pillars of democracy, of which the Judiciary is one.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]