Former President’s Appointee to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) Aishath Velezinee has called on parliament to review the appointment of judges and to begin to make the JSC accountable.
Speaking at a press briefing on Sunday, Velezinee pointed out that while a week has passed since UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Gabriela Knaul had released her preliminary findings, the JSC, Supreme Court, Attorney General, the Law Community and the Judges’ Community had failed to make any official comments on the findings.
She added that while it was important for all relevant actors to reflect and act on the recommendations, she especially hoped that the parliament would review the concerns raised by Knaul upon the beginning of its new session.
“Most serious case of corruption yet”
“Article 13 of the Act Against Corruption states that it a very serious form of corruption to obstruct citizens from receiving any benefits or good,” Velezinee said. “what is a more serious case of corruption than cheating citizens out an independent judiciary?”
Velezinee stated that since the complaints on the matter she had filed with the parliament in 2010 had never been examined, dueto political reasons, she had then submitted the case to the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC).
“In light of the background information I had, I saw a coup d’etat being rolled out when the then opposition set to the streets to ‘find Ablo Ghazi’ [Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed] in January 2012,” Velezinee said.
“Therefore, I wrote to the ACC about these observations and enquired how far the case I had submitted had proceeded.”
“I got a response on February 6, 2012. The ACC said they had sent the details to the Independent Institutions Oversight Committee of the parliament on September 9, 2010,” she continued.
“Why then was the chair of this committee, independent member of parliament Mohamed Nasheed seen among the opposition group on the streets looking for Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January last year? Until the case at the committee is properly investigated there is no Judge Abdulla. What I see is Abdulla Mohamed of Bahaaruge from the island of Hulhudhufaaru just passing himself off as chief judge of the Criminal Court.”
“If we are to refer to the ‘rule of law’ and ‘due process’ that Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed keeps referring to, then no judges were appointed during my time serving in the JSC,” Velezinee stated.
“I have been continuously saying that numerous criminal offences have been committed within the JSC. The allegations I make against them are not matters that can be taken lightly. Hence, it cannot be at all acceptable to let the JSC continue with their duties without the parliament’s Independent Oversight Committee investigating these claims,” stated the former JSC member.
“One action that can be taken by the parliament even immediately is to enforce transparency in JSC proceedings and make their sessions accessible to the public,” she said.
“If the JSC meetings are seen by the public, no one else will need to run around like I did with concerns about the commission. Citizens will witness proceedings themselves. This in turn would ensure they do not get any opportunities to do wrong in there,” Velezinee recommended.
JSC politicised and ineffective
“Many of the recommendations shared by Knaul are matters which the JSC, initially constituted after the ratification of the new constitution in 2008, was mandated to do. Incidentally, I was then a member of this commission,” Velezinee said.
Velezinee stated that she had put in a lot of effort during her time at the JSC to align the commission’s work to the mandate it was constitutionally given, but said she had failed to achieve her goal.
“The JSC failed to establish a free and independent judiciary as detailed in our constitution. You must have seen the oath taking ceremony held on 4th August 2010 of the existing judges who had not been screened as per the due process. As a result of this failure, we have been hearing since that day, in local media and in various international forums, comments about how there is no justice in the Maldives, how judges lack freedom, and how the judiciary is politicised,” Velezinee stated.
While Knaul recommended that the JSC be reconstituted to free it from the current political influences which inhibited it from fulfilling its constitutional duties, Velezinee said she felt the failure of the commission was more a result of the members’ refusal to abide by the disciplinary guidelines than the nature of their political backgrounds.
“They [JSC members] always say that the constitution provided us with two years to build up the judiciary. But that is an outright distortion of what really is in our laws,” Velezinee stated.
“The constitution gave us two years to lay the foundation. It, however, allows us a period of 15 years in which we are to build an independent judiciary to an internationally acceptable standard. Nevertheless, even this article has been discarded without fulfillment by the JSC.”
Stating that the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) had made similar comments in 2010, Velezinee said that Knaul’s findings indicated that the problems which had existed then had continued to elevate.
Velezinee alleged that the public were left unaware of the seriousness of the problems in the judiciary due to the highly politicised dialogue around the issues in the judiciary that were being put forth by various politicians.
“Article 285 is the foundation on which the constitution of the Maldives is based on. I sincerely hope that the parliament members will take a step back and review the events that took place when this article was breached in 2010 – matters that no state body previously paid any attention to – and that the parliament will this time around ensure that the people of the Maldives is guaranteed an independent judiciary free from any form of influence, and a proper democratic system,” Velezinee continued.
Velezinee furthermore criticised local media’s coverage of Knaul’s remarks, stating that some articles had sought to make implied political statements by picking out a single concept that Knaul had referred to, instead of focusing on the main issues.
Asked for a response to Jumhooree Party MP, leader, presidential candidate and member of JSC Gasim Ibrahim’s remarks about Knaul’s findings being “lies, jokes”, the former member dismissed these remarks as irresponsible.
“A man of Gasim’s status should not be making comments like this. Being an MP, a JSC member and a presidential candidate, it could prove dangerous to him to make irresponsible comments of this nature,” she said.
Unlawfully appointed judges
“Since there are so many contentious issues around the appointment of judges, we must keep a keen eye on events that unfold in the next couple of months,” Velezinee stated.
“We are now in the midst of some very strong political battles. I, for one, suspect that the current judiciary may abuse its powers to orchestrate political plots planned to interfere in the independence and fairness of the approaching presidential elections, and use the Supreme Court to issue rulings in favour of a particular side,” Velezinee predicted.
Adding that many citizens held similar doubts about the judiciary, Velezinee called on political leaders to set aside differences, engage in dialogue with international experts to find a lawful means to carry on all proceedings related to the elections through a system other than the existing Supreme Court.
“We must find a way to have inclusive presidential elections here, one that will be widely accepted by all. Perhaps one way might be to consult with international experts and then set up a judicial bench. This bench can be tasked with presiding over all cases relevant to the elections,” Velezinee said.
“Yes, this is an extraordinary idea. Then again, no other country has seen anything like Article 285. No other country has had the need to completely overhaul a judiciary,” she stated.
Velezinee served as President’s Appointee to the JSC from April 2009 to May 2011. She has been vocal about the problems in the commission and the judiciary, and in early 2011, was stabbed three times in broad daylight.