Judicial watchdog passed over qualified nominees in appointment of judges

Judicial watchdog passed over qualified nominees in appointment of judges
April 13 20:05 2016

The Judicial Service Commission’s appointment of judges to superior courts last week was not based on merit, a leaked marks sheet compiled by the watchdog has revealed.

The leaked document, obtained by The Maldives Independent, shows that the judicial oversight body passed over three judges who topped the list of 26 applicants with the highest marks based on educational qualifications and experience.

Asked about the decision, JSC spokesperson Hassan Zaheen said: “The law states the commission can make a decision by the majority of its members’ vote.” He declined to comment further.

The candidates were put to a secret vote in the order of those who received the highest points. The first candidates who received a majority from the 10-member commission were appointed.

The four judges appointed to the trial courts last week scored on average 64 to 74 points.

Vaikaradhoo Court magistrate Mohamed Niyaz topped the list with 80 points, while Kurendhoo Court magistrate Hussain Mohamed was placed second with 77.9 points. Both judges were passed over.

Of the four judges who were appointed, Adam Arif, a former public prosecutor, was listed 11th with 65 points. Former criminal court registrar Ali Adam came fourth with 76 points. The pair was appointed to the criminal court.

The two judges appointed to the civil court, Omadhoo Court magistrate Adam Ibrahim Ismail and former Hithadhoo Court magistrate Mariyam Waheedha, were placed sixth and 13th, respectively, with 74 points and 64 points.

Speaking to The Maldives Independent today, former Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain criticised the recent appointments, calling it “more of a step backwards”.

“I personally don’t know the judges who were appointed last week. However, I believe the recent judges who got appointed to superior courts are questionable. I doubt they have the standard to act according to the system we practise now,” he said.

Faiz added: “It’s not a good policy JSC is using to appoint judges”.

In October 2014, the High Court had ruled that the criteria for evaluating a candidate’s educational qualification and experience was flawed and ordered the JSC to amend the criteria.

The 100-point mark sheet awarded 35 points for education, 30 points for experience, 10 points for ethical conduct and 25 points for an interview.

The Supreme Court, however, overturned the appellate court’s ruling.

Reforming the JSC’s process of selecting and appointing judges was among 258 recommendations made by UN member states during the Maldives’ Universal Period Review at the UN Human Rights Council in May last year.

The judiciary came under fire during the UPR session over “politicisation,” inadequate qualification of judges, and lack of conformity to international fair trial standards.

In March, JSC member Mohamed Easa Fulhu – a judge at the drug court – refused to attend JSC meetings citing concerns over the watchdog’s independence.

In a comprehensive report released in May 2013, UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, had stated that the composition of the JSC – which includes representatives from the parliament and the executive in addition to three judges – was “inadequate and politicised”.

This complaint was first highlighted in a report by the International Committee of Jurists in 2010.

“Because of this politicisation, the commission has allegedly been subjected to all sorts of external influence and has consequently been unable to function properly,” said Knaul.

Current members of the JSC include Speaker Abdulla Maseeh, High Court Judge Abdulla Hameed, ruling Progressive Party of Maldives 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.

The commission is chaired by Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed Mohamed.

Last week’s appointments came in the wake of an overhaul of the criminal court bench, with Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, Judges Abdulla Nasheed and Ahmed Sameer Abdul Azeez transferred to the family court in recent months.