Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid, who is also a member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), appeared before Parliament’s Independent Commissions Oversight Committee on Tuesday to answer questions regarding the the appointment of a panel of three magistrates to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.
This panel of three judges were appointed to preside over the case against former President Mohamed Nasheed for his detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, and cases against other officials from the former government involved in the detention.
Prior to Shahid’s appearance, JSC Vice Chair Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Didi and member appointed to JSC from among the public, Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman, have attended the committee over the same matter.
Meanwhile, JSC Chair Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed has refused to attend the committee on the grounds the matter is related to an ‘ongoing case.’
JSC acted outside its mandate: Speaker Shahid
Speaking at the committee meeting, Shahid stated that he believed that the judicial watchdog had acted unconstitutionally in assigning magistrates to a particular case.
“In deciding upon the bench, the JSC did follow its rules of procedures. As in, it was voted upon in an official meeting and six of the seven members in attendance voted on the matter. The seventh member being the Chair, does not vote in matters,” Shahid explained.
“However, whether it is within the commission’s mandate to appoint a panel of judges in this manner is an issue which raised doubt in the minds of more than one of my fellow members.”
Shahid then referred to the existing legal framework, quoting articles to back his statement that he did not believe the matter was within the responsibilities of the commission.
He quoted Article 21 of the JSC Act, Articles 48 and 49 of the Judges Act, and from the Judicature Act.
Article 21 of the JSC Act outlines in detail the responsibilities and powers of the commission.
Article 48 of the Judges Act states “A judge can be temporarily appointed to another court in the instance that the court is unable to sufficiently complete assigned work, or if the court has difficulties providing services, or if the judges serving in the court has been suspended from their duties. or if other circumstances which may cause a delay in the completion of work assigned to the court occur.”
Article 49 of the same act states “It is the Judicial Services Commission, with the counsel of the Judicial Council, which will come to a decision on the transfer of judges to oversee cases in other courts.”
Article 55 (a) of the Judicature Act states “In addition to the responsibilities assigned by other laws, the responsibilities of the Senior Judge of a superior court are the following: (a) Determine the Judges who would adjudicate the cases of that court.”
“None of these articles say anything about assigning cases concerning a particular individual to a specific set of people. The JSC is mandated with the appointment and transfer of judges. But it does not say anywhere here that the JSC holds the powers to assign cases to specific judges,” Shahid said.
“Hence, I do not believe that the appointment of a panel of magistrates to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate falls into the mandate of the JSC,” Shahid stated.
“The reason why I need to state this here is because the constitution explicitly guarantees the right to a fair trial to all individuals. When things proceed as they are going now, this is being compromised. So I must speak out,” he said.
Responding to a question posed by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Abdulla, Shahid said he did not “feel it was the right course of action” to remove then Senior Magistrate of Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court Moosa Naseem from the case after he had assumed responsibility for the case.
“Moosa Naseem, who was then in charge of the Hulhumale’ Court sent in his recommendations for magistrates who are to sit on Nasheed’s case to the JSC for comments. This list included his own name. The JSC then replaced all three of these magistrates. Do you feel this was done in the rightful manner?” Abdulla asked.
“I do not think removing Naseem was the right course of action. There should be a good reason to remove a judge from a case from which the judge has not recused himself. I think that is a good issue for this committee to further investigate,” Shahid responded.
Asked about the formation of the Hulhumale’ Court, Shahid answered that his summons letter had detailed that he would be asked specifically about the assignment of the panel, adding that therefore he felt it “unnecessary to even extend [his] thoughts” to any other topic.
“As Speaker of Parliament, you have been working with us 77 MPs for years now, in a very politically volatile environment. You are also one of the most senior council members of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), and we belong to your political opponent, MDP,” MDP MP Ali Waheed addressed Shahid.
“In these past few years, there have been times when we have acted very harshly against you. We even initiated a no confidence motion against you. Now to come back, you have just told us that you don’t think the assignment of the Hulhumale’ Court panel is legitimate. This is the panel which will be ruling on the presidential candidate of your political opposition,” Ali Waheed continued.
“My question to you is, under these circumstances, can you tell us in what light you see the events that are unfolding? Do you think the trial that is being conducted by this panel we speak of can be free and impartial?”
Shahid promptly responded that he did not entertain any political thoughts while serving as a JSC member.
“You have pointed out that I come from a specific political party, and you are right. Nevertheless, I was voted in as Parliament Speaker through votes cast by MPs from various parties. When I sit as speaker, I do not see any political action, and instead work as per the regulations and the constitution,” Shahid answered.
“I sit in the JSC because of my role as speaker, and hence as a rule, I have no right to harbour any political thoughts or mindset in the work I do there, nor will I do so,”’he said.
“In casting my vote in JSC or advocating for different matters in the commission’s meetings, the only focus I keep is on doing what is constitutionally mandated. Hence, even at a politically turbulent time, on a very politically contentious matter, I am sitting here in this chair and telling you that in my personal capacity I believe the JSC acted wrongfully in having appointed that panel,” Shahid repeated.
Chair of the Independent Commissions Oversight Committee Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed did not attend Tuesday’s committee meeting. He was also not present at the last two meetings of the committee where JSC members Abdulla Didi and Sheikh Rahman were summoned.