Supreme Court controls the judiciary, says HRCM report to United Nations

The Maldivian judiciary is controlled and influenced by the Supreme Court to the detriment of superior and lower courts, states the Human Rights Commission of Maldives’ (HRCM) report to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council’s Universal Period Review (UPR).

“Judicial system is controlled and influenced by the Supreme Court, weakening judicial powers vested in other superior courts and lower courts,” the HRCM contended.

“Supreme Court issued a circular ordering all state institutions not to communicate to individual courts regarding any information relating to the judiciary except through the Supreme Court. HRCM is facing difficulties in gathering information related to judiciary due to lack of cooperation.”

The UPR studies the human rights records of all 193 UN member states, aiming to prompt, support, and expand the protection of human rights. After having been reviewed first in 2010, the Maldives will again undergo inspection in 2015.

Through a raft of regulations enacted in recent months, the Maldives Supreme Court has sought to consolidate control over administrative affairs of the judiciary.

The new regulations require Supreme Court approval for judges seeking transfer to a different court and the court’s permission for judges and judicial employees to attend overseas workshops, seminars, conferences, or training programmes.

In May, the Supreme Court enacted new rules stipulating that the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) – tasked with management of the courts and public relations as well as providing facilities, training, archiving systems and security for judges – will function in accordance with policies set by the apex court bench and under the direct supervision of a designated justice.

Former Judicial Service Commission (JSC) member Aishath Velezinee told Minivan News at the time “the appointment of a Supreme Court judge to [oversee] the DJA is tantamount to control 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 centralising administrative decisions in the hands of the Supreme Court “has undoubtedly contributed to the strong impression that lower courts are excluded from the administration of justice and decision-making processes.”

She also referred to “several complaints about internal tensions in the judiciary, where lower courts are left with the feeling that the Supreme Court only works for its own interests, without taking into account the situation of other judges and magistrates.”

Access to justice

In the ‘access to justice’ section of its report, the HRCM noted that the enforcement of a new penal code would be “a positive development towards a better legislative framework.”

“However, due to shortfalls in judicial system, functioning of the judiciary is often questionable on various grounds including independence, transparency, interference, influence, competency, consistency, and accessibility,” the report observed.

“State responded to UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers as trying to undermine the country’s court system. [International Commission of Jurists] has issued a number of recommendations to build competency of judiciary with no progressive action by the state,” it continued.

“According to [Transparency Maldives], majority of public lack confidence in the court system. Majority of cases, both criminal and civil, often get delayed for more than a year, and is prosecuted in the capital which forces plaintiffs and defendants from atolls to travel to and stay in capital, which is costly.”

The HRCM recommended implementation of recommendations by both the Special Rapporteur and the ICJ as well as codification and harmonisation of Shariah law and common law in accordance with the Constitution.

“Enact important laws leaving no room for inconsistencies in judicial decision making,” read the recommendations.


Authorities plan 14-storey court building

A 14-storey building used to house the Maldives’ superior courts is to be designed by Riyan Private Limited for a total of MVR 470,000 (US$30,519).

An official from the Judiciary Media Unit told local media that the Criminal Court, Civil Court, Family Court, Juvenile Court and Drug Court are to be transferred into the building once it is complete.

Riyan Private Limited has 62 days to design the building, which is expected to help alleviate space constraints faced by the courts, local media has reported.

The building is planned to be built on plot number 378, near Aa Sahara Cemetery in Male’.


High Court overrules Civil Court injunction ordering JSC to halt appointment process

The High Court has overruled a Civil Court injunction issued on September 8 ordering the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to halt its appointment of judges to superior courts pending a ruling on the constitutionality of the process.

The temporary injunction was appealed by the JSC at the High Court, which ruled today that the Civil Court did not have jurisdiction to rule on the constitutionality of laws and regulations.

A group of lawyers had filed a case at the Civil Court contesting that regulations drafted by the JSC – containing evaluation criteria for selecting judges to superior courts – conflicted with both the constitution and the Judges Act. The lawyers requested the court abolish the regulations and declare the commission’s shortlist void.

The final interviews of 17 shortlisted candidates were due to place on September 10, two days before the injunction or staying order was delivered.

In its verdict today, the  three-judge panel unanimously ruled that the Civil Court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case, citing article 143 of the constitution as well as provisions of the Judicature Act.

Briefing press after filing the case at Civil Court, lawyers Ali Hussein and Ismail Visham argued that the evaluation criteria formulated by the JSC unfairly favoured graduates of the College of Islamic Education (Kulliya).

Ali Hussein explained that under the regulations drafted by the JSC, a candidate with a masters degree and a graduate of Kulliya both receive 25 marks for educational qualification.

“We are saying this is not fair,” he said. “We especially note that the Faculty of Sharia and Law teaches shariah subjects to the same extent as Kulliya [Islamic College], but graduates of the faculty receive 20 marks while students from Kulliya receive 25 marks.”

Kulliya graduates also received higher marks than graduates of the Islamic University of Malaysia, he said.

The lawyers also claimed that two shortlisted candidates had close ties – as a spouse and a business partner – with two members of the commission, suggesting a clear conflict of interest as neither had recused themselves from voting in the JSC panel.

Moreover, the lawyers observed that the JSC criteria also conflicted with the academic rankings of the Maldives Qualification Authority (MQA), formerly the accreditation board, which places Kulliya certificates below those of overseas institutions.

Following today’s ruling, the lawyers are preparing to file their case at the High Court.