MDP files motion calling government to address judicial issues highlighted by Special Rapporteur

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has filed a motion calling the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan to address issues highlighted in the report by United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, concerning the country’s judiciary.

Knaul’s final report to the UN Human Rights Council extensively outlined the political, budgetary and societal challenges facing the judiciary and wider legal community, as well as the politicisation of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and its failure to appoint qualified judges under Article 285 of the constitution.

The Special Rapporteur also expressed “deep concern” over the failure of the judicial system to address “serious violations of human rights” during the Maldives’ 30 year dictatorship, warning of “more instability and unrest” should this continue to be neglected.

“It is indeed difficult to understand why one former President is being tried for an act he took outside of his prerogative, while another has not had to answer for any of the alleged human rights violations documented over the years,” Knaul wrote.

The motion, filed by MDP MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy, was debated during the parliamentary session held on Monday. The motion was passed by 23 out of 34 members present during the session, while nine members voted against it.

Presenting the motion, Fahmy said the judiciary was impaired after it appointed the judges for life, without considering the constitutional provisions specified in article 285 of the constitution.

He contested that the JSC, instead of ensuring that the judges met the required standards befitting an independent judiciary, had lowered the standards to ensure all existing judges were qualified to sit on the bench for life, plunging the whole judicial system into chaos.

Due to the JSC’s decision to lower the standards, judges accused and in some cases convicted of criminal wrongdoing had been reinstated, he contended.

Fahmy further contested that every citizen of the country was entitled to the right to get a fair hearing and that not even the Supreme Court could undermine such a fundamental right.

He noted that the judiciary disregards any remark made that highlight its own flaws, dismissing them as attempts to tarnish the image of the judiciary and lower its image among the public.

Parliamentary debate

Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla raised doubts over the legitimacy of the current membership of the JSC, highlighting that current Attorney General Aishath Bisham – who by virtue of her position is also a member of JSC – is yet to be endorsed by the parliament.

Local media alleged that Aishath Bisham had taken part in the vote taken during the JSC meeting in which it decided to indefinitely suspend the Chief Judge of High Court over a complaint filed a year ago.

Abdul Raheem Abdulla also questioned the legitimacy of the position of Civil Service Commission (CSC) President Mohamed Fahmy Hassan, who was removed from his post by parliament reinstated after the Supreme Court overturned parliament’s decision.

In March, the Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that Mohamed Fahmy Hassan would receive two punishments for the same crime if he was convicted at court following his dismissal by parliament (double jeopardy).

The doubts surrounding the legality of these people sitting in the JSC posed questions over how just a decision by JSC could be, Abdulla Abdul Raheem said.

He further contended that the JSC had been overpowered by political influence both internal and external, however maintained that no one should meddle with the affairs of the court.

JP’s own leader, resort tycoon and MP Gasim Ibrahim, also sits on the commission.

However, tourism magnate Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam’s Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) MP Ahmed ‘Aims’ Amir spoke in favour of JSC, stating that he saluted the commission for completing the appointment of judges within the time frame required by the constitution.

Amir claimed that the two parties had agreed with the appointment of the permanent Supreme Court bench, but were now criticising the bench because it did not work to their pleasure.

Government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Parliamentary Group Leader, Ahmed Mausoom, said Special Rapporteur Knaul had asked to resolve the issues through dialog between the authorities, and noted that her recommendations included amending the constitution.

Other recommendations, Mausoom said, included changing the composition of the JSC, and calling on political parties to work on creating awareness among the public of the laws of the country and its constitution, and speeding up the legislative process.

Opposition MDP Deputy Parliamentary Group Leader MP Ali Waheed meanwhile accused the JSC Chair Justice Adam Mohamed of being a “gang leader”, and said the only way to reform the judiciary was through direct action by the people.

Another MDP MP, Abdul Ghafoor Moosa, claimed that presidential candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Abdulla Yameen, and JP MP Gasim Ibrahim were key conspirators behind the sabotage of the judiciary.

Government’s response

Following Knaul’s report, the government of President Waheed responded with a statement that “international actors should not undermine national jurisdiction and the court system of any country”.

The statement was issued on May 28 via Permanent Representative at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Iruthisham Adam, who further said that the Maldivian delegation, in light of the report, “wishes to discuss specific matters contained in the report with the Rapporteur”.

At the same time the statement “welcomed” the UN Rapporteur’s report and “fully acknowledge[s] that the various challenges she has identified and raised in her report are in fact the residue challenges present in a system in the midst of democratic consolidation.The Maldives judicial system continues to be hampered by structural deficiencies and resource constraints in addressing the difficult challenges facing the country in general.”


Nasheed’s legal team files High Court case to defer trial until after elections

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s legal team filed a case with the High Court today (March 24) regarding the deferment of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court criminal case until after the September presidential election.

Nasheed is facing criminal charges over the controversial detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed during the last days of his presidency.

Nasheed’s legal team previously requested the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court delay the trial until the end of the scheduled presidential elections in 2013, and in a separate request, asked the Hulhumale’ court for a delay in proceedings by four weeks, during the March 7 Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court hearing.

At the same hearing, state prosecutors said they did not object to delaying the trial until presidential elections scheduled for September this year are over.

The Hulhumale’ court dismissed the request to delay the trial until the end of the elections, but agreed to withhold it for four weeks, stating that the panel of judges by majority “had decided to proceed with the trial”.

Nasheed’s lawyers subsequently contested the decision, claiming that continuing the trial could compromise the rights of many people, arguing that Nasheed was the presidential candidate of the largest political party in the country, the MDP.

However, the court stated that Nasheed’s claim he was the presidential candidate of a political party lacked legal grounds to support it, as presidential candidates were decided by the Elections Commission after it opened the opportunity to file presidential candidates.

Filing of presidential candidates is expected to take place in July.

High Court case submission

Nasheed’s legal team submitted a case to the High Court at approximately 10:20 this morning (March 24) to defer the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court criminal case until after the September presidential election, MDP Spokesperson Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy told Minivan News.

“Now the court has to formally accept the case, which will happen at a later date,” stated Fahmy.

“We expect that prior to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court hearing, the High Court should have a decision and will ask the lower court to halt the case,” he added.

Nasheed’s legal team confirmed with Minivan News that the case has been submitted to the High Court.

“This is not an appeal. We submitted a case to the High Court for the deferment of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court case until the election is over,” said one of Nasheed’s lawyers, Hifaan Hussain.

“The court accepted the documents, but we are waiting for the court to accept and register the case,” she explained.

Hussain explained a reply from the High Court will likely be issued within three days and once the case is accepted it should take about a month to complete.

She expects the High Court to grant the deferment of lower court’s case against Nasheed until the presidential election is over.

President Nasheed’s Spokesperson MP Mariya Didi is also confident the High Court will grant the deferment.

“The prosecution has said they have no objection to deferment of the trial until after the elections,” Didi stated.

“I don’t see any reason why the court should not grant deferment when the prosecutor has no objection to it,” she added.

Politicising  justice

The MDP maintain that the charges are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent Nasheed from contesting elections in September, and have condemned the former President’s repeated arrest on the court’s order by squads of masked special operations police.

Speaking during a party rally held earlier in March, President Nasheed stated that the four-week break granted by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court until the next hearing was an opportunity for state institutions to decide on the matter.

“Delaying trial for just four weeks has no meaning. There is no reason for it nor does it help anyone. We want the trial to be delayed till the elections are over. [The prosecution] gave one month and said that they did not object to further delays,” Nasheed told his supporters.

Nasheed said that it was very clear that charge of arresting the judge was not a charge against him alone, but several others as well.

He also warned that if the magistrate court issued a verdict that would bar him from contesting the elections, a lot of people would rise up against the decision and trigger a “very dangerous political insurgency”.

Didi also highlighted the large number of Maldivians continuing to support Nasheed, speaking with Minivan News today.

“It is clear that 46,000 Maldivians have decided President Nasheed is their presidential candidate. Our campaigns show that President Nasheed will win the elections with a clear majority.

“The coup has set us back not only with regard to democracy and human rights, but in regard to investor confidence and development.

“Our international development partners have also urged the government to take account of the wishes of the people and to hold an inclusive election with – as the European Union put it – the chosen candidate of MDP Mohamed Nasheed being able to contest the elections.

“We cannot waste another five years with a government that lacks a democratic mandate,” Didi declared.

Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court legitimacy questioned

During the early-March MDP rally, Nasheed also criticised the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) stating that the problem with Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court was not just the panel of judges. He alleged that the JSC had formulated the bench and have now been forcing administrative staff of the court to do specific things to impact the trial.

Parliament’s Independent Commissions Oversight Committee has been investigating the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, specifically the appointment of judges by the JSC.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim told local media on Friday (March 22) that a notice had been sent to Gasim Ibrahim – who is a Majlis-appointed JSC member and also the presidential candidate for Jumhoree Party (JP) – regarding a case to remove him from his JSC post.

The parliamentary committee summoned all members of the JSC to attend the committee on Wednesday (March 20) to face questions regarding the manner in which judges were appointed to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court bench.

Another committee meeting is scheduled to take place tonight (March 24).

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, also raised concerns over the politicisation of the JSC during her investigative visit to the Maldives this February.

As part of a wider review of the Maldives justice system, Knaul claimed that the JSC – mandated with the appointment, transfer and removal of judges – was unable to perform its constitutional duty adequately in its current form.

As well as recommendations to address what she said were minimal levels of public “trust” in the nation’s judicial system, Knaul also addressed matters such as the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed is currently facing trial for his detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court last year, charges he claims are politically motivated to prevent him from contesting presidential elections later this year.

Knaul maintained that the former president, like every other Maldivian citizen, should be guaranteed a free and independent trial.


Documents from JSC show Gasim is lobbying Hulhumale’ court bench: MDP

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has alleged there is evidence to support claims that parliament’s member to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Gasim Ibrahim, has influenced the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court bench.

The party’s comments follow a recently submitted motion by MDP Parliamentary Group Member Ibrahim ‘Bondey’ Rasheed to remove Gasim – who is also the leader and presidential candidate of Jumhoree Party – from the JSC.

Rasheed accused Gasim of influencing the legal processes in place to make judges accountable, adding that it “is not right” for a party president to sit on the JSC, local media reported.

Speaking to Minivan News today, MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that Parliament’s Independent Commissions Oversight Committee had received documents from the JSC, showing that Gasim had been lobbying the Hulhumale’ Court bench.

The JSC was responsible for both creating the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court in which the former President of the Maldives and leader of the MDP, Mohamed Nasheed, is currently facing trial, and appointing the panel of judges hearing the case.

The MDP have maintained that the charges against Nasheed are a politically motivated attempt to bar him from the election in September – in which Gasim is also competing.

“The oversight committee received a total of 18 documents and a number of minutes from the JSC. The documents show that a magistrate [from Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court] had originally proposed a bench of judges for the court to the JSC on September 2, 2012,” Hamid claimed.

According to the MDP Spokesperson, the JSC had responded to the proposal by letter on September 4, calling for the aforementioned magistrate to “not do anything”.

“On the same day [September 4, 2012], The JSC then held a meeting at 12:30 whereby they proposed a new bench before ratifying it and sending it to the Supreme Court for approval.

“The JSC received the approval from the court on the same day and the bench proposed by the magistrate was never even discussed,” he added.

Responding to the MDP’s claims, JP Spokesperson Moosa Ramiz stated that Gasim had “every right” to sit on the JSC under the Maldivian constitution.

“Actually Mr Gasim is the JSC member not on behalf of the Jumhooree Party, but is there from the people’s majilis, so there are no more comments from the party on this matter,” Ramiz stated.

Gasim Ibrahim was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Local media reported on Tuesday (March 12) that Ramiz had claimed the MDP’s motion to remove Gasim from the JSC was an attempt to tarnish Gasim’s reputation and “good name”.

Furthermore, Ramiz was quoted as saying that the slanderous statements made by the MDP were done because they feared Gasim’s popularity as a presidential candidate.

The parliament secretary general confirmed to local newspaper Haveeru that the motion to remove Gasim from the 10 member JSC had been received.

Last month, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul raised concerns over the politicisation of the JSC.

“I have heard from numerous sources that the current composition of the JSC is inadequate and politicised.

Because of this politicisation, the commission has been subjected to all sorts of external influence and consequently has been unable to function properly,” Knaul stated last month.

Knaul said that she believed it best for such a body to be composed of retired or sitting judges, adding that it may be advisable for some representation of the legal profession or academics to be included.

However, she maintained that no political representation at all should be allowed in a commission such as the JSC.

In response to the Knaul’s findings, Gasim accused her of lying and joking about the state of the Maldivian judiciary.

“[Gabriela Knaul] claimed that the judges were not appointed transparently, I am sure that is an outright lie. She is lying, she did not even check any document at all nor did she listen to anybody.

“She is repeating something that was spoon-fed to her by someone else. I am someone who sits in JSC. She claimed there were no regulations or mechanism there. That is a big joke,” Gasim claimed.

Knaul is an independent expert appointed to deliver recommendations on potential areas of reform to the Maldives’ legal system at the 23rd session of the UN Human Rights Council in May, 2013.