A member of the watchdog Judicial Services Commission has said he would no longer attend meetings because of concerns over its independence.
Judge Mohamed Easa Fulhu of the drug court sent a letter to the JSC on Wednesday, questioning the commission’s ability to fulfil its oversight mandate, according to local media.
Easa was elected to the JSC as a representative of the Maldives’ lower courts in 2014.
A spokesman confirmed receiving the letter, and said: “The JSC is an independent institution, there is no doubt about that. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.”
Easa was not available for comment at the time of going to press.
The JSC, a ten member commission comprising of judges, MPs, a lawyer, the attorney general and a president’s representative, has long been accused of political bias.
In 2010, the commission re-appointed all sitting judges despite a constitutional provision requiring a vetting process. Aishath Velezinee, a member of the JSC at the time, labelled the move a judicial coup d’état.
Action against judges are rarely transparent. According to the JSC’s 2014 annual report, some 111 complaints were lodged against judges that year. Investigations took place in just 39 cases.
The JSC had cleared Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed of misconduct in 2014, despite multiple videos that appear to show the judge fornicating with foreign women in a Colombo hotel room.
The commission said it did not have sufficient evidence. Now Hameed heads the JSC.
Recent rulings by the JSC include the transfer of long-serving and controversial criminal court judge, Abdulla Mohamed, to the family court, the suspension of the family court’s chief judge, and the suspension of a civil court judge.
Criticism has been mounting against the Maldives’ judiciary in the wake of lengthy jail terms handed to several opposition politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Amnesty International in a recent report noted that the government frequently claimed they would not address complaints against the judiciary because courts were independent. But the government “failed to strengthen the Judicial Services Commission to enable it to address impartiality and other issues related to the judiciary.”
Gabriella Knaul, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, in a 2013 comprehensive report said that there was near unanimous consensus that the composition of the JSC “inadequate and politicised.”
“Because of this politicisation, the commission has allegedly been subjected to all sorts of external influence and has consequently been unable to function properly.”
Knaul recommended that the JSC be composed entirely of judges. While some representation of the legal profession and academics could be advisable, no political representation should be permitted.
The Supreme Court in January seized some of the JSC’s powers, issuing a regulation saying the JSC could only transfer judges on its approval.
Members of the JSC include Speaker Abdulla Maseeh, High Court Judge Abdulla Hameed, MP of the ruling Progressive Party of MP Ibrahim Riza, and Civil Service Commission President Dr Ali Shameem.
Also on the commission is a public member selected by the parliament Abdul Hannan Ahmed, President Abdulla Yameen’s representative Ahmed Faisal, lawyer Latheefa Gasim and Attorney General Mohamed Anil.