The judicial watchdog has backed an unprecedented supreme court decision to sack a civil court judge after she ruled against the government in a long-running resort lease dispute.
The Judicial Service Commission decided at a meeting on Monday that it does not have to take further action since the constitution declares the supreme court to be “the final authority” on all matters dealt with by a court of law.
The JSC spokesman said the decision was put to a vote but declined to give further details.
In an order issued close to midnight on February 16, the apex court had declared that Judge Mariyam Waheed has “lost the legitimacy, legal capacity, and authority” to remain on the bench after a judgment she delivered ordering the government to sign a resort lease agreement was deemed contrary to a previous supreme court ruling.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has called the move “a flagrant abuse of power” and a usurpation of a parliamentary prerogative that has “removed the constitutional guarantees and protections afforded to all judges”.
According to the constitution, a judge can only be removed if the JSC finds that she is either grossly incompetent or guilty of gross misconduct. A two-thirds majority of the parliament must then approve a resolution submitted by the watchdog.
The MDP said the apex court has rendered the JSC “redundant” as the watchdog is tasked with investigating complaints and disciplining judges.
In a rare public criticism of the judiciary, former Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain – who was contentiously removed from the bench in December 2014 – wrote on his Facebook page Thursday night that the “JSC cannot ignore the constitution” and shared the contents of article 154(b).
The 10-member judicial oversight body, comprised of representatives from all three branches of government, is chaired by disgraced Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed.
Contacted by the Maldives Independent, Latheefa Gasim, who represents lawyers on the commission, declined to comment.
Mahfooz Saeed, a prominent lawyer, said the supreme court’s order is “widely seen as a joke” in the legal community.
“The [civil court] judgment was delivered correctly. Even if it was not, the supreme court does not have the authority to take action against judges,” he said.
“This is the start of the supreme court suspending judges. If this becomes acceptable we are giving them this much legal power. If the JSC is not willing to take action, the Majlis can summon them and ask questions. The parliament needs to show to the people what they have to say about the legitimacy of the decision.”
Judge Mariyam Waheed was appointed in April 2016 and had worked in the court’s judgment enforcement section. According to local media, she has not reported for work after the supreme court order.
She was the only female judge in the civil court. Three senior female judges have also resigned since 2014.
The judge had ordered the government to hand over the island of Bodumohoraa in Vaavu atoll to Marine Technology Maldives after the company requested a judgment to enforce a previous civil court order.
After twice withdrawing an appeal against the order on behalf of the government, the attorney general’s office later sought permission from the supreme court to file the case again despite the lapse of the appeal deadline.
The supreme court denied the request. But the “decision on the request to file an appeal” noted that the government has the “discretionary power” to decide whether to sign a lease agreement.
The decision – which noted the opinion of supreme court justices – was relayed to the AG office by the supreme court’s registrar and is not publicly available.
Mahfooz stressed that the decision is not binding on lower courts, noting that the court did not conduct hearings.
The MDP meanwhile alleged that President Abdulla Yameen had “privately and repeatedly expressed frustration and displeasure” over the previous civil court ruling, adding that his tourism minister refused to enforce it for three years.
“The unlawful sacking of Judge Mariyam Waheed is nothing short of the executive bending the highest court in the country to do the president’s bidding,” the party said in a statement.
“With this brazen ruling, the Maldivian judiciary is signalling a warning of consequences for judges who do not abide by the government’s interests, and specifically President Yameen’s interests.”
The party also warned that the apparent arbitrary dismissal of a judge “also severely undercuts the already precarious investor confidence in the country.”
The president’s spokesman, Ibrahim Muaz Ali, was not responding to calls for a response, but Yameen has repeatedly maintained that the judiciary is free of undue influence from the executive branch.
The MDP went on to note that the apex court’s move was reminiscent of its dismissal of elections commissioners in March 2014.
Two weeks ahead of a hotly contested parliamentary election, the supreme court sacked the president and vice president of the elections commission on charges of contempt of court.
According to the constitution, an elections commission member could only be removed from office if a parliamentary committee established “misconduct, incapacity or incompetence” and “upon the approval of such finding by the People’s Majlis by a majority of those present and voting.”