Judicial administration brought under direct control of Supreme Court

The Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) will function in accordance with policies set by the Supreme Court bench and under the direct supervision of a designated justice, according to new rules (Dhivehi) promulgated by the apex court.

The rules made public last week states that the Supreme Court bench shall assign a justice to ensure that the DJA – tasked with management of the courts, public relations and providing facilities, training, archiving systems and security for judges – was implementing policies determined by the court.

The justice will be assigned for a one-year period with the responsibility of supervising the functioning of the department and “providing instructions and guidelines from the Supreme Court bench.”

The designated justice will also report to the bench on the operations of the DJA.

The Supreme Court stated that the rules were formulated under authority granted by articles 141 and 156 of the constitution.

While article 141(b) states that the Supreme Court “shall be the highest authority for the administration of justice in the Maldives,” article 156 states, “The courts have the inherent power to protect and regulate their own process, in accordance with law and the interests of justice.”

“Systematic takeover”

The DJA was formed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on October 1, 2008 to replace the Ministry of Justice following the adoption of the new constitution in August 2008.

While the DJA was to function under the JSC, on December 2, 2008, the Supreme Court brought the department under its remit with a ruling to that effect.

With the enactment of the Judicature Act in 2010, the DJA was reestablished with a mandate for court management, public relations, training of judges, providing for structures, facilities and archiving systems, and providing security for judges.

Although the department was to function under the Judicial Council created by the new law, the Supreme Court abolished the council in a ruling that struck down the relevant articles in the Judicature Act.

The DJA has since been functioning under the direct supervision of the apex court.

Speaking to Minivan News today, former JSC member and outspoken whistleblower, Aishath Velezinee, stressed that the administration of justice and the administration of the courts were “two different though interconnected issues.”

“The Supreme Court is misconstruing article 156 of the constitution and the appointment of a Supreme Court judge is tantamount to control of the courts,” she contended.

“This goes against the constitutional concept of independence of courts whereby each court is an independent institution, separate from the influence of other courts, including the Supreme Court. And, the own decisions of 2008 and 2011 the Supreme Court refers to are a systematic takeover of the DJA which should stand as an independent institution solely facilitating administration of the courts.”

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 as a consequence of the Supreme Court’s ruling abolishing the Judicial Council, “the only platform for internal communication within the judiciary where difficulties, challenges, experiences and opinions could be exchanged, disappeared.”

“Many interlocutors reported that the dissolution of the Judicial Council and the direct control of the Supreme Court over the Department of Judicial Administration have had the effect of centralising administrative decisions in the hands of the Supreme Court,” the special rapporteur stated.

“This has undoubtedly contributed to the strong impression that lower courts are excluded from the administration of justice and decision-making processes.”


JSC suspends Chief Judge of the High Court

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has indefinitely suspended Chief Judge of the High Court, Ahmed Shareef, over a complaint filed against the judge last year.

JSC Chair and Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla insisted at a press conference today that the disciplinary action had no relation to the ongoing High Court case filed by former President Mohamed Nasheed contesting the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court bench appointed by the commission.

The suspension was a “precautionary” measure while investigation of the complaint was proceeding, he claimed.

“There are no legal grounds to stop looking into a complaint submitted [to the commission] or halt proceedings,” he said, adding that ongoing court cases and disciplinary proceedings at the JSC were “two completely different systems.”

High Court Chief Judge Shareef was summoned to the JSC earlier this month almost a year after the complaint was lodged.

Meanwhile, a hearing of Nasheed’s case scheduled at the High Court today was cancelled after one of the judges took a leave of absence.

The chief judge – who is among the three judges presiding over the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate’s case – was suspended over a complaint filed by seven other High Court judges, Justice Adam Mohamed revealed.

The decision was approved at a JSC meeting today with three votes in favour and one against.

According to local media, Attorney General Aishath Bisham, President’s Member Mohamed ‘Reynis’ Saleem and Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Didi voted in favour while Public Member Shuaib Abdul Rahman voted against the motion.

Lawyers’ Representative Ahmed Rasheed and Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chair Mohamed Fahmy Hassan reportedly abstained while High Court Judge Abdulla Hameed did not participate in the vote.

Speaker Abdulla Shahid and Majlis Member MP Gasim Ibrahim did not attend the meeting.

Shuaib told private broadcaster Raajje TV following the meeting that the decision was made in violation of due process and JSC procedures as a report regarding the allegations against the chief judge was not presented to the commission members.

The motion or petition to suspend Shareef was proposed by Attorney General Bisham, who is yet to receive parliamentary consent for her appointment.

Meanwhile, at the press conference this evening, Justice Adam Mohamed refused to reveal either the details of the vote or the members in attendance despite repeated queries from reporters.

He also refused to state which High Court judge would take over the chief judge’s administrative functions.

In June 2012, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was asked to investigate allegations that Chief Judge Shareef met officials of Nexbis in Bangkok, Thailand while a case concerning the controversial border control project awarded to the Malaysian mobile security firm was scheduled at the High Court.

According to newspaper Haveeru, Shareef had applied for a leave of absence from May 30 to July 1 before the JSC made its decision today.

The local daily also reported that today’s hearing of the former president’s case was cancelled after Judge Abbas Shareef took a last minute leave.

Former President Nasheed’s office said in a statement today that the hearing was “unexpectedly cancelled three hours prior” to the scheduled time.

“We condemn the actions of the Maldivian courts, which violate the electoral rights of nearly 50,000 Maldivian Democratic Party members. Today’s disruption to President Nasheed’s campaign trip to Raa atoll is an unnecessary, politically motivated challenge. The JSC continues to try and cover up the unconstitutional manner in which they appointed the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court bench through attempts at influencing the judiciary, while the Courts create logistical challenges such as today’s.  However, it does not stop affect the spirit of President Nasheed’s campaign,” MP Mariya Ahmed Didi, Nasheed’s spokeswoman, said after the cancellation.

Nasheed meanwhile returned to Raa Atoll today to resume his presidential campaign.

“Undue influence”

The MDP organised a march against the JSC on Saturday (May 25) to protest JSC Chair Adam Mohamed’s alleged attempts to unduly influence the trial of former President Nasheed.

The party contended that Justice Adam Mohamed was abusing his power and authority as head of the judicial watchdog body to intimidate judges on the High Court bench.

On April 1, the High Court ordered the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court to suspend Nasheed’s trial pending a ruling on the legitimacy of the panel of judges appointed by the JSC to preside over the case.

In the first hearing of the High Court case, the JSC contested the High Court’s jurisdiction to rule on the legality of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court bench constituted by the commission.

The JSC has sent letters to the High Court requesting expedition of Nasheed’s case, the party noted in a press release.

The MDP objected to the judicial oversight body summoning the Chief Judge of the High Court for questioning over a complaint filed a year ago.

The move amounted to intimidation of judges and undue influence on judicial processes, the party contended, calling on the JSC to cease its “dirty and cowardly” efforts as the commission was the adverse party or respondent in the High Court case.

“Actions such as these are seen as thinly veiled attempts at influencing the Judiciary,” the former president’s office said today.

The JSC responded to the protest march with a statement of its own the following day, appealing against “obstruction” of the commission’s constitutional and legal responsibilities.

The JSC noted that the constitution and Judicial Service Commission Act of 2008 mandated the commission to investigate complaints against judges and enforce disciplinary measures.

The commission was entrusted with powers to summon and question persons and take witness testimonies, the JSC stated.

There were “no legal or constitutional grounds” to interpret carrying out the commission’s legal responsibilities as intimidation or exerting undue influence on judges, the statement added.

The JSC statement concluded by calling on all parties to “not commit any act or participate in any activity that could obstruct the constitutional and legal responsibilities and duties of the commission.”

Meanwhile, in her report to the United Nations Human Rights Council following a visit to the Maldives in February 2013, UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul wrote that “the trial of the former President raises serious concerns regarding the fairness of proceedings.”

Knaul questioned the constitutionality of the Hulhumale’ Court and the appointment of the three-member panel of judges, “which seems to have been set up in an arbitrary manner, without following procedures set by law.”

She also expressed concern with “the significant backlog of complaints with the Judicial Service Commission that are not dealt with or at least are perceived as not being dealt with. Some judges that have several complaints and cases for misconduct against them are still sitting.”

Moreover, Knaul wrote that according to several judges, “disciplinary procedures before the Commission lead to public humiliation and damages to their reputation.”

“Some even said that, when summoned by the Commission, the principle of presumption of innocence is not respected and they do not have appropriate time and access to information to prepare for their cases. Judges are also often not told for what allegations they are being investigated. It is common that, after an appearance before the Commission, judges are not informed if their case was dropped, if a decision was taken, or if it is still pending,” Knaul wrote.

“The Special Rapporteur is worried that disciplinary proceedings before the Judicial Services Commission are not in line with international law and principles, and may sometimes be used to expose and question the integrity of judges and magistrates before the media and the general public before the conclusion of a proper investigation into the allegations. She wishes to underline that, according to the Basic Principles on the independence of the judiciary, judges are entitled to a fair hearing under an appropriate procedure, which should be subject to an independent review.”

Among a number of recommendations to reform the Maldivian justice system, Knaul suggested taking “appropriate measures to enforce the code of conduct of judges in a transparent and consistent manner, with full respect for the fundamental guarantees of fair hearing and bearing in mind the importance of the reputation of judges and magistrates.”