Maldives Judiciary and Independence of Judges
Background, Current Status and Recommendations
12 January 2013
Judicial Administration pre Constitution 2008 and the Constitutional Change
Pre-Constitution 2008, the Republic of Maldives had an administrative justice system administered by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). In the early years of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s six consecutive terms in Office, the system was expanded and a Court established in every inhabited island. The Courts were administered by MoJ, and the title of “Judge” (Qazi or Magistrate) was held by civil servants appointed by MoJ to the Courts.
The qualification for the post of Judge was a tailored 6-month certificate programme, Certificate in Sentencing. There was no basic entrance requirement for the programme, and many who joined had no secondary schooling.
At the time of Constitution change, the majority of the sitting judges were of this schooling. This was topped by a Certificate in Justice Studies issued to all but a few of the sitting judges between 2003 – 2008, and it had been decided that this was equivalent to a Diploma in Law. It was a part-time, 1-year, tailor-made programme for sitting judges. Few judges had standard Diplomas and Degrees.
These judges worked on sentencing guidelines provided by MoJ, in a number of instances actual verdicts being sought from MoJ. In the years leading up to democratization of Constitution, there existed a “legal section” in MoJ which served the Courts providing advice on cases submitted. The role of the judge then was to pronounce the sentence, not decide the case.
Accountability of judges, like other civil servants, was to the Minister. Complaints against judges dating back years existed without any evident action or inquiry. At least 20 sitting judges on the bench had convictions for crimes ranging from embezzlement to sex crimes. A few had served sentences and continued on bench.
No verifiable records are found on the circumstances in which many of the judges were appointed.
Adoption of Constitution (2008), Politics of Transition to Democracy, Failures in State Building
On August 7, 2008 the Maldives adopted a new Constitution to transit from Constitutional autocratic government to democratic government.
De jure, it provided for multi-candidate direct voting in Presidential elections; an expanded People’s Majlis (Parliament) of 77 members all directly elected by the People; and it specifically prescribed the re-appointment of an Independent Judiciary within two years of Constitution adoption. Independent Commissions and Posts too were introduced for check and balance of powers.
Following the adoption of Constitution (2008) Presidential elections were held on schedule, Majlis elections followed albeit a delay in adopting the required legislation delaying parliamentary elections. However, the change required in the Judiciary did not take place, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) refusing to fulfill Article 285.
On 23 February 2010 JSC declared Article 285 symbolic, and without vote or time for debate, went through an elaborate act of re-appointing judges in effect nullifying it by re-appointing all sitting judges without check. Six judges were picked out and removed at the last minute after JSC’s treason became public, and at least 3 of these 6 removed judges were reinstated later.
Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) approached in May 2010 after Majlis failed to respond to complaints lodged since February 2010, responded to the complaints against JSC of treason in re-appointment of judges by forwarding the matter to the Majlis Independent Commissions Committee on 9 September 2010. This action by ACC, one month after the infamous Oath of 4 August 2010, confirms the matter of Article 285 is serious, and requires a full Inquiry.
The Majlis has failed to hold an Inquiry into JSC on which the Speaker sits an ex-officio member, and instead have acted to cover-up the issue, raising serious concerns. These fears were confirmed in January 2012 when MPs who carried Constitutional Duty to hold the JSC to check came out in defence of JSC and “Judge Abdulla Mohamed”, culminating in the ouster of the elected President on 7 February 2012.
The only independent inquiry carried out on Article 295 and constitution of an Independent Judiciary was by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) who responded to calls for intervention and help. The report of the ICJ fact-finding mission led by former UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Mr. Leandro Despouy, notes both substantive and procedural issues in re-appointment of judges; and raise questions on de facto independence and capacity of judges.
The Human Right Committee, in their review of the Maldives in July 2012, has further raised critical concern that the Maldives do not have an independent, competent judiciary; the judges are politicized, and that the basic Right to a Free and Fait trial cannot be protected without a “radical change” in the Judiciary. That “radical change” is what the Constitution envisioned in Article 285.
Legal Reasoning on Article 285 announced and published by the JSC on 3 August 2010
JSC’s “legal reasoning on Article 285 decision of the Commission” announced on 3 August 2010, the day after Majlis summoned JSC to the Independent Commissions Committee following repeated requests for an Inquiry, is a false reading of the Constitution and International Human Rights Conventions, and confirms JSC’s treason on Article 285. It also provides every reason to redress Article 285 and re-appoint an Independent Judiciary through an independent, transparent, open process.
An unofficial English translation of JSC’s reasoning published on the Commission website in the original Dhivehi is included here. No independent legal review of it has been undertaken, nor has Majlis carried out the Inquiry promised on 2 August 2010.
The purpose of this document is to state the main criteria and the constitutional points used in determining those criteria for the eligibility or ineligibility of judges at the time of commencement of the Constitution. The determination of these criteria is necessitated under Article 285 and specified in Article 149 regarding the judiciary. These criteria were initially passed by the Commission on 11 May 2010 and subsequently Article 4 of these criteria was amended on 27th of July 2010.
1) Before these criteria were passed unanimously by the Commission on 11 May 2010 , they have been debated by the 10 members of the Commission.
2) When these criteria were passed by the Commission on 11 May 2012 the only objections raised by members were against point number 4
3) Two members had initially objected to point number 4 of the criteria. During the Commission meeting on 27th July 2010 there were 9 members present out of 10. It is to be noted that these 9 members included the 2 members that had initially objected to point number 4. Thus the amended point number 4, as passed on 27 July, was accepted and agreed upon by the two members who initially objected.
4) Under Article 285 (b) pursuant to Article 157 of the Constitution the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), within 2 years of commencement of the Constitution was to determine if the judges fulfilled the qualification criteria as specified by Article 149. According to Article 299 (a) of the Constitution the Executive, the People’s Majlis, the Judiciary, the Independent Commissions and persons in Independent Offices, all State institutions, all persons in any State post and all citizens shall comply with the provisions of the Constitution upon its commencement. The nonexistence of a law should not be an excuse for the infringement of any fundamental right or freedom guaranteed under the Constitution. Article 285 (b) states that The JSC established pursuant to Article 157 of the Constitution, should within two years of the commencement of this Constitution determine whether or not the Judges in office at the said time, possess the qualification of Judges specified in Article 149. It is clear from the laws above and in order to be compliant with Article 285 it is the duty of the JSC to determine the qualification criteria for judges and it is also clear that there is no necessity of a law to determine these criteria as this determination pertains to guaranteeing of the fundamental rights and freedoms under Article 299 (a).
5) According to Article 149 (a) a person appointed as a Judge in accordance with law, must possess the educational qualifications, experience and recognized competence necessary to discharge the duties and responsibilities of a Judge, and must be of high moral character. Even though this Article does not refer to a name or Article number, there is no legal hindrance to infer that this Article refers to “Judicial Service Commission” 2008/10 of the Constitution as ratified by the President of Maldives on Thursday the 4th of September 2008. According to Article 21 which clearly states the JSC’s responsibilities and powers include (a) to appoint, promote and transfer Judges other than the Chief Justice and Judges of the Supreme Court, and to make recommendations to the President on the appointment of the Chief Justice and Judges of the Supreme Court. The beginning of (b) is “to make rules [as mentioned below]”. The point number 1 under (b) is “all things regarding schemes for recruitment and procedures for the appointment of Judges” and point number 3 is “providing for such matters as are necessary or expedient for the exercise, performance and discharge of the duties and responsibilities of the Commission”. As explained above it is reasonable to infer that the law referred to in Article 149 is the law relating to the “Judicial Service Commission”.
6) If one objects to the inference that the law referred to in Article 149 (a) is the “Judicial Service Commission” 2008/10 and states instead that it refers to (d) regarding “statute relating to judges” then the following points will show that there is no legal basis for such an objection:
(a) Article 149 (a) states that a person appointed as a Judge in accordance with law, must possess the educational qualifications, experience and recognized competence necessary to discharge the duties and responsibilities of a Judge, and must be of high moral character; Article (b) states that “in addition to the qualifications specified in Article (a), a Judge shall possess the following:-”. Thus the qualifications required of a judge as mentioned in 149 (a) are general and baseline requirements and thus these same qualifications can be taken to apply to judges under Article 285. This is further supported by Article 149 (b) and (c ) which states additional qualifications required of the judges in all courts of the judiciary.
(b) The interim Supreme Court established at the commencement of the the Constitution had its judges appointed by the JSC using the criteria stated by article 149. The Commission sent a list of eligible candidates for judges, under article 149, to the President who subsequently forwarded it to the People’s Majlis. The People’s Majlis passed the list even though there was no “statute relating to judges”. Acceptance and approval of the list of candidates for judges by the People’s Majlis, which represents all the citizens of Maldives, is proof that there is no need of a “statute relating to judges” and that a selection process of judges based on Article 149 is sufficient.
7) Article 149 (a) states that judges must be of high moral character but does not specify the attributes to be measured. Article 51 (h) states that everyone charged with an offence should be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If a judge on the bench at the commencement of the Constitution has no conviction under Article 149 (b) 3., it is also necessary to verify if that judge has the good moral character as stated in Article 149 (a). It is the right of every judge to refer to Article 51 (h) since this Article is under fundamental rights. Article 68 states that when interpreting and applying the rights and freedoms contained within this Chapter, a court or tribunal shall promote the values that underlie an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, and shall consider international treaties to which the Maldives is a party. The JSC is an important body commissioned under the Constitution to deal with matters of the judiciary. The JSC in evaluating the eligibility criteria of judges under Article 285 is required to follow relevant international treaties as stated under Article 68. Hence it should follow the “International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCRP)” Article 14;2 which states “Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law” and it should also follow “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” Article 11 which states that “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence”. The aforementioned points show that all the judges on the bench at the commencement of the Constitution had all the rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution.Therefore any judge who has not been proven guilty in a court of law is guaranteed to be presumed innocent under Article 51 (h).
8) Article 51 (h) of the Constitution and ICCRP Article 14;2 and “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” Article 11;1 all guarantee a person to be presumed innocent until proven guilty
beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. The final version of the eligibility criteria for judges (initially passed by the Commission on 11 May 2010) with the amendment of Article 4 on 27th of July 2010 reads as “if a person has been convicted in a court of law as stated under Article 149 (b) 3. then it is determined that this person does not fulfil the good morality clause as stated previously. If there is any criminal conviction against a person other than as stated under Article 149 (b) 3., or if an action has been taken against a person after being accused of a criminal activity, by an institution which has been empowered by the Constitution to take such an action, then the Commission is to decide on the eligibility of this person as a judge”. This amended version has been agreed upon and passed by all 9 members (out of a total of 10) who were in attendance during the meeting held on 27 July 2010 and is documented in the minutes and other records of the proceedings. It is noted that included in the members who were in attendance on 27 July 2010 and who agreed and voted to pass the criteria in its present form were the Presidential appointee, Aishath Velezinee and the member of the general public appointed by the People’s Majlis, Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman. The criteria for determining good moral character has been fortified further in the current version as compared to the previous, is keeping in line with the Constitution and all 9 members were unanimous in their agreement.
9) Article 149 (a) states that a person appointed as a judge in accordance with the law must possess the educational qualifications necessary to discharge the duties of a judge, however, the details of the these qualifications are not stated. The final version of the eligibility criteria for reappointment of judges after the commencement of the Constitution (Article 285 (b)) was initially passed by the Commission on 11 May 2010 with subsequent amendment of Article 4 on 27th of July 2010 states. It is to be noted that on 11 May 2010 when the criteria were initially passed it was agreed upon unanimously by all the members of the Commission and when Article 4 of the criteria was amended and passed on 27 July 2010 it was agreed upon by all 9 members who were in attendance on that day, including the Presidential appointee, Aishath Velezinee and the member of the general public appointed by the People’s Majlis, Sheikh Shoaib Abdul Rahman. The specific educational qualifications as stated in number 1 of the eligibility criteria were agreed upon and passed by all 9 members in attendance on 27 July 2012 out of a total of 10, therefore no member should be able to object to the criteria. It should be further noted that specifics of the educational criteria were proposed by the Presidential appointee, Aishath Velezinee. Even though there were initial objections and discussions on the specifics of the educational criteria as stated in number 1, the criteria stated in number 2 were all in compliance with Article 149 (a) of the Constitution and is non refutable. Since most of the judges in the islands other than Male’ do not possess a degree or a diploma, it is not be noted that if the Commission abruptly decides that a degree or a diploma is a requirement to be eligible as a judge then almost all the courts in the islands other than Male’ will come to a standstill and will be unable to dispense justice to the citizens. If that happens then a large group of the Maldivian citizens will not have the fundamental right of a fair and transparent hearing as guaranteed by article 42 (a) of the Constitution.
10) Article 37 (a) under “Fundamental Rights and Freedoms” states that every citizen has the right to engage in any employment or occupation of their choosing. Article 270 states that acts done pursuant to or in accordance with any law which is repealed upon the commencement of this Constitution due to its inconsistency with this Constitution, remain valid. Therefore the judges, who fulfill the eligibility criteria for judges compiled by the Commission which are not in conflict with the criteria stated in Article 149, have a right to continue in office as guaranteed by Article 37 (a) and Article 270.
11) Article 285 (d) states “where it is determined as provided in Article (b) that a Judge possesses the qualifications specified in Article 149, such Judge shall be appointed as a Judge under this Constitution”. Therefore at the commencement of the Constitution, as stated under Article 285 with its reference to Article 149. regarding the qualifications of judges, there is no indication that any further qualifications need to be sought. In the Commission’s evaluation of judges’ qualifications under Article 285 (d) it is clear that the Commission does not need to see if there is a statute relating to judges. This is further clarified if one looks at the wording in Article 285 (d) “if in possession of the qualifications specified in Article 149 under this Constitution.”
12) If one analyses and thinks about the aforementioned points it will be clear that the criteria for reappointment of judges passed by the commission, who were on the bench at the commencement of the Constitution, is fully in compliance with Article 285 and there is no room to dispute and say it is non compliant with the Constitution. Also the Commission believes that the criteria it passed is compliant with the stated human rights and the exalted laws of Islamic Shariah.
While the above reproduced document speaks for itself, it is noted that the “legal reasoning” itself is a doctored document “adopted” without the knowledge of the full Commission. A review of original records of the dates in which the JSC claims decisions were taken will provide the evidence.
There are two separate inter-related issues on Article 285 and the JSC. One is the loss of an Independent Judiciary due to effective nullification of Article 285 by the JSC on which I sat during the time of re-appointment of judges. Second, is the criminal breach of JSC and the willful manipulation and corruption that led to the loss. The recommendations here focus on substantive change and transformation to an Independent Judiciary, respecting Constitution and redressing Article 285.
Criminal breach cannot be addressed in the current political climate, without an Independent Judiciary, and the Supreme Court itself a political deal.
(a) Redress of Article 285, and re-appointment of judges as prescribed in the Constitution, re-appointing all who qualify and removing they who do not, without fear or favour.
(b) Review and amendment of Judges’ Act and Judicature Act which bring down the standards set in the Constitution, politicize the Judiciary and encroach upon Independence of Judges; encroach upon powers of the Judicial Service Commissdion, and maintain parliamentary influence upon judges.
(c) Review of JSC, functional capacity, internal democracy and practices.
(d) Review of JSC’s approach to misconduct complaints against judges, orientation on Constitutional principles to members and staff, and development of an effective skill base in the JSC Secretariat to carry out its’ Constitutional duties effectively and efficiently.
(e) Broader civic education and orientation of Media, to Constitution, the Judicial Service Commission, its’ role and function in democratic government; as well as the concept of Independence of Judges and Courts.
Infamous Judges Oath of 4 August 2010 (Video with English subtitles)
Report on testimony provided to Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI), August 2012 (PDF)
The Failed Silent Coup: In defeat they reached for the gun.
The unsuccessful plot to change the government through a quasi-legal court ruling, and subsequent use of the police and military as illegal means to the same end
(Inside story of JSC’s alleged Silent Coup and connection to 7 February 2012 released on 27 August 2010 and shared with #CoNI members and Advisors)
Statement on the #CoNI Report
Transcripts of JSC sittings where Article 285 decisions are claimed to have been made; Writings and Notes on JSC, Article 285 and Judiciary published between 1 May and 4 August 2010
Warning of silent coup raised in November 2010, notes on cover-up activities, records of JSC corruption in High Court appointments, original documents and audio etc.
Facebook Page: Article 285
Daily log on JSC started on 1 June 2010
A Briefing, Advocacy Note prepared by:
Member of the Maldives’ Judicial Service Commission
April – July 2009 and July 2009 – May 2011