High Court judge complains over transfer to southern branch

High Court judge complains over transfer to southern branch
March 13 17:52 2016

High Court Judge Azmiralda Zahir has filed a complaint with the parliament’s independent institutions oversight committee over her transfer to a southern branch of the appellate court.

In her letter, obtained by The Maldives Independent, Zahir said she is presently not working at the job she was chosen for. Her forced relocation to Addu City has also infringed on the rights of her two young children, she wrote.

Zahir – the most senior female judge in the Maldives – was among three judges chosen by the Supreme Court in June last year for the newly-established branch in the southernmost aoll. One of the three, Abbas Shareef, retired in September citing health problems. 

The nine-member High Court bench was divided by amendments brought to the Judicature Act in December 2015. Two regional branches were set up to hear appeals of magistrate court verdicts while only the main branch in the capital was to decide on constitutional challenges to laws and regulations. 

Critics at the time questioned the need for regional branches, noting that magistrate courts typically only hold trials of petty crimes. The bulk of complicated civil and criminal matters are heard at the Malé’s superior courts.

Zahir said in her letter that neither the Supreme Court nor the Judicial Service Commission had made any contact with her from the time of her appointment to her departure to Addu City in November.

She was also not involved in hearing appeals before November, Zahir noted, adding that the Malé branch at the time ruled on cases that fall under the southern branches’ jurisdiction.

“While cases were sent to the southern branch, urgent cases were taken care of by other judges from the Malé branch,” she said.

A source familiar with the matter told The Maldives Independent that the parliament’s oversight committee has not called a meeting to date to discuss the judge’s letter.

“When members questioned the committee chair MP Ali Saleem, said that he was not aware that such a  letter had been sent to the committee,” the source said.

The ruling coalition controls voting majorities in all oversight committees.

Zahir meanwhile explained that she was looking after her two children, aged four and six, on her own as her husband was studying overseas, noting that she is the only sitting judge who has to care for two young children on her own.

“My transfer to Addu atoll, without my consent, has hindered the rights of my children as well,” she wrote.

In the absence of another guardian, Zahir said she was forced to take her children to work with her. She was unable to hire a maid willing to relocate to Addu City.

Her children have since been sent back to live with her family in Malé.

She also noted that three judges were transferred to the southern branch without opening a northern branch in Kulhudhufushi as required by the amendments.

Letters sent to the JSC and the Supreme Court seeking to clarify whether her transfer was permanent have gone unanswered, Zahir told MPs.

The controversial amendments to the Judicature Act voted through in December by the pro-government majority in parliament saw the dismissal of former Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Justice Muthasim Adnan.