Latheefa Gasim elected to represent lawyers on JSC

Attorney Latheefa Gasim won yesterday’s polls to elect a lawyer to represent the legal community on the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

Latheefa won the polls with 238 votes while her closest contender, former Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem, secured 163 votes.

In mid-August, the AG Office postponed the election for a second time after the Supreme Court struck down section 11(a) of the regulations enacted for conducting the polls, which state that polling mechanisms would be established on inhabited islands with at least five registered voters.

The apex court had declared that all licensed lawyers eligible to vote in the elections – including magistrates of island courts – should be able to do so anywhere in the country without registering.

The order prompted the AG Office to repeal the procedural regulations as the “essence” of the annulled clause was assuring “secrecy of the ballot”.

Latheefa had previously served on the JSC as former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s member on the 10-member judicial oversight body.

Shameem meanwhile thanked voters on Twitter following the polls and expressed gratitude for support despite “nonstop rain, flooding and difficulties in communication.”

Among the other contestants, Mohamed Faisal received 63 votes, Anas Abdul Sattar received 19 votes, and Rusdhulla Ibrahim got 10 votes.

The AG Office had enacted new regulations (Dhivehi) in line with the Supreme Court order (Dhivehi). Lawyers and magistrates in other islands were allowed to vote via fax from a polling station arranged by the AG Office.

Once the faxed ballot paper with the name, signature and fingerprint of the voter is received by the AG Office, an election official at the office was to omit the section with the name and cast the ballot into a ballot box in Malé.

After withdrawing his candidacy, lawyer Mohamed Fareed had objected to judicial interference in the election following an earlier Supreme Court’s ruling allowing all licensed lawyers, including sitting MPs and judges, to vote in the election.

“The belief that an election in the Maldives may proceed without Supreme Court interference is against the facts, reality. This is the reality now,” he said at a press conference.

With voting mechanisms set up on every island, magistrates would be forced to vote for the judiciary-backed candidate Latheefa Qasim, he suggested.


Candidates threaten boycott after judicial interference in JSC lawyer election

Four of the five lawyers competing in an upcoming poll to elect a lawyer to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) have threatened a boycott after judicial interference.

Lawyers Hussein Shameem, Mohamed Fareed, Anas Abdul Sattar, and Mohamed Faisal expressed concern over reports the Supreme Court may allow judges in magistrate courts in the islands to vote via fax on July 13 – a move, which would violate the secrecy of the ballot.

The attorney general had initially compiled regulations barring judges who have lawyer permits from voting to elect a representative from the lawyer community.

But the Supreme Court on June 23 ruled that all licensed lawyers, including judges and MPs, would be eligible to vote in polls.

Lawyers have said the decision allows judges undue influence in electing a representative from the legal community, pointing out judges already have three representatives on the ten-member commission.

AG Mohamed Anil then extended the initial deadline for candidates to submit applications from June 24 to June 30.

Subsequently, a public relations staff member at the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA), Latheefa Qasim, applied for the position. Latheefa worked at the DJA until she was appointed as President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s representative to the ten-member commission.

Latheefa was replaced when new President Abdulla Yameen took oath of office in November 2013.

The four candidates have said Latheefa appears to be backed by the judiciary.

“There is a conflict of interest when an individual employed with the judiciary to improve its image is running for an oversight body,” Shameem said.

Fareed said Latheefa running in the election is like disgraced Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed standing for the position.

Meanwhile, both Anas and Faisal have raised questions over Latheefa’s eligibility, noting JSC regulations state no JSC member can run for consecutive terms.

Faisal said he believed Latheefa had completed a term as she had sat in the commission as a presidential appointee in the current term.

If Latheefa is eligible to run, any current member could resign now, and run again claiming they have not completed a full term, he said.

“There is doubt over whether Latheefa Qasim is standing on her own initiative or is being fielded by other interests. I say this because she submitted her application after the Supreme Court ruling, when the deadline was extended,” he added.

Latheefa was not responding to calls despite repeated attempts at the time of press.

All four candidates insisted the criticisms were not a personal attack on Latheefa.

The four met last week and discussed whether to field a single candidate against Latheefa, but decided to run separately, claiming they still stand a fair chance of winning elections as long as the secrecy of the ballot is protected.

Polling booths are to be set up in Arabiyya School in Malé and in islands where more than five eligible voters are registered to vote. They are Haa Alif atoll Ihavandhoo, Haa Dhaal atoll Kulhudhuffushi, Thaa atoll Veymandoo, Laamu atoll Fonadhoo and Gaaf Alif atoll Villingili.

“There is no point of contesting elections if the secrecy of the ballot is affected. There are approximately 136 magistrates court judges – a number than can significantly change the election outcome. If there is a perceived judiciary backed candidate, they will be forced to vote for the candidate endorsed by the judiciary, if the secrecy of ballot is violated,” Faisal said.

Fareed said the four candidates are still ready to field a single candidate or boycott the election if necessary should the judiciary interfere in election procedures.

“We will not blindly obey the Supreme Court’s decisions,” Fareed said.


MDP expresses concern with President Waheed’s appointee to JSC

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has expressed concern over President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s appointment yesterday of former Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) Spokesperson Latheefa Gasim to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), alleging the appointee had ties with the Jumhoree Party (JP).

In a press release yesterday (June 24), the party characterised Latheefa Gasim’s appointment as an attempt to “increase the political and other forms of influence of a particular group and promote their self-interest” through the judicial oversight commission.

“Latheefa Gasim is the wife of Mohamed Ikram, who is employed by Jumhoree Party presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim as the head of V-media’s political department and a presenter of VTV, who campaigns for Gasim Ibrahim,” the party said, adding that Ikram was also a member of business magnate Gasim’s JP.

JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim is the parliament’s representative on the 10-member JSC, which consists of three judges from the three tiers of the judiciary (trial courts, High Court and Supreme Court); a representative of the President, the Attorney General, the chair of the Civil Service Commission; the Speaker of Parliament, a member of parliament elected by the People’s Majlis, a member of the public selected by parliament; and a lawyer elected by licensed practitioners in the Maldives.

Gasim, the JP MP for Alif Dhaal Maamigili, is the chairman of the Villa Group of businesses, which owns resorts, tour operators, a cement packing factory, a gas provider, an airline and several retail outlets.

The MDP alleged in its statement that Gasim has been “working ceaselessly” through the JSC to bar former President Nasheed from the upcoming presidential election on September 7, adding that the rival candidate has made public remarks to that effect.

Latheefa Gasim’s appointment to the commission has secured “two seats for the Jumhooree Party presidential candidate,” the press release continued, which has afforded the JP leader “further opportunities to advance his political and personal interests and exert extreme influence on the JSC.”

The press release also noted that Latheefa Gasim had made several statements to the media concerning MDP presidential candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed’s trial at the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.

The former DJA spokesperson was not responding to Minivan News at time of press.

Latheef Gasim’s appointment yesterday followed the removal of Mohamed ‘Reynis’ Saleem by President Waheed last week ostensibly over allegations that the lawyer commissioned gangs to retrieve money owed to him.

The President’s appointee on the JSC was summoned to the police for questioning over the allegations in May.

The Criminal Court meanwhile refused to grant police an arrest warrant to take Saleem into custody, a decision which was backed upon appeal by the High Court.

Saleem was the defence counsel of Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim in criminal cases involving an alleged scam to defraud the now-defunct Ministry of Atolls Development.

The cases were dismissed by the Criminal Court shortly after the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7, 2012.

Meanwhile, in her report to the United Nations Human Rights Council following a visit to the Maldives, UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul observed that the JSC had a “complicated” relationship with the judiciary, given that the commission “considers that it has exclusive jurisdiction over all complaints against judges, including over criminal allegations, while the Prosecutor General understands that the criminal investigation agencies have the competence to investigate criminal conducts by anyone.”

The special rapporteur stated that there was near unanimous consensus during her visit that the composition of the JSC – which includes representatives from all three branches of government instead of exclusively the judiciary as was the norm in other nations – was “inadequate and politicised”.

This complaint was first highlighted in a report by the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) in 2010.

“Because of this politicisation, the commission has allegedly been subjected to all sorts of external influence and has consequently been unable to function properly,” Knaul observed.


Nasheed adds third British legal expert to defense team

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has further bolstered his legal team by accepting the services of Kirsty Brimelow QC ahead of the continuation of the Judge Abdulla Mohamed detention case on Sunday.

Brimelow will join fellow UK-based legal experts Sir Ivan Lawrence QC and Barrister Ali Mohammed Azhar on  Nasheed’s defence team.

A statement appearing on Nasheed’s website describes Brimelow as a criminal law specialist with international experience who is “particularly sought after in cases with a human rights law element”.

Brimelow was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2011 and has, among a number of high profile cases, acted as Legal Adviser to the Constitution Commission of Fiji. She is vice-chairwoman of the Bar Human Rights Committee and appears regularly on British television and radio.

Earlier this month, the Department of Judicial Administration informed local media that two of Nasheed’s lawyers, Hassan Latheef and Ahmed Adbulla Afeef had been barred from the trial.

Latheef had been barred from the trial as the state had called him as a witness, while Afeef was was barred as he had not signed new behavioural regulations for lawyers recently issued by the Supreme Court, explained department spokesperson Latheefa Gasim.

This leaves just two of Nasheed’s lawyers able to appear in court – former President’s Office Legal Advisor Hisaan Hussain and criminal defence lawyer Abdulla Shair.

Nasheed has stated repeatedly that he feels the outcome of the trial to be pre-ordained, with his conviction designed specifically to prevent him running in next year’s presidential elections.

“On Sunday I will face an extraordinary court, established especially to hear my case,” Nasheed wrote in Britain’s Financial Times this week.

“I am to be tried for abuse of power, in particular for the arrest of a corrupt judge, who was an ally of Mr Gayoom. My conviction is a foregone conclusion. Mohamed Waheed, my former vice-president, may decide to pardon me, but only in a way that ensures I remain barred from seeking office next year,” he wrote.

The issue of Nasheed’s trial was raised in the UK House of Commons this week by Conservative MP Karen Lumley, who asked Alistair Burt – Under Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, about the fairness of Nasheed’s trial.

“We have sought and received assurances from President Waheed of the Maldives that any trial of former President Nasheed will be fair and free from political influence,” replies Burt.

“No trial date has been set. The next court hearing is on November 4 and we expect international observers to be present,” he added.

In response to Lumley’s question regarding the effect of the trial on a sustainable political outcome in the country, Burt said the following:

“The trial process is, of course, a matter for the Maldives, but there is international concern that if it results in the former President being prevented from leading his party into the elections next year, it will be seen as though the process was designed for exactly that object.”

“We urge political stability under all circumstances in the Maldives, and that will no doubt be enhanced if the former President is allowed to lead his party and take part in those elections,” continued the Under Secretary.

The statement on Nasheed’s website noted that the Attorney General’s regulations prevented any of the new additions to his legal team appearing alongside him in court.

“Article 2 (a) of the regulation states ‘a person has to either be a Maldivian citizen or be married to a Maldivian citizen and reside for most part in the Maldives’ in order to practice law in the Maldives,” read the statement.

“This restriction is a hindrance to clients who wish to have foreign legal professionals represent them in courts of the Maldives,” it said.

Nasheed’s legal team raised several procedural issues at the cases first hearing on October 9, all of which were dismissed by the court.

After challenging this ruling in the High Court, and calling for an injunction to halt the trial until the matter was resolved, it was announced last week that the High Court would hold a hearing on the matter on the morning of November 4 – the same day Nasheed’s trial in the Hulhumale’ Magistrate’s Court recommences.

“The party believes that the result of conducting both hearings on the same day will be the defence attorneys losing the opportunity to prepare for the original case at the Hulhumale Magistrate Court’,” a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) statement read.

The party held a march around the capital island Male’ on Tuesday calling for judicial reform. Over 500 protesters marched around Male’ with banners and placards displaying messages arguing the importance of judicial independence and of holding the judiciary accountable.

Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was originally taken into custody in January after blocking the Judicial Services Commission’s (JSC) proceedings into his alleged misconduct. A police mutiny and unrest in the capital led to Nasheed’s resignation three weeks later.