Watchdog reacts furiously to Commonwealth plan for judicial reform

Watchdog reacts furiously to Commonwealth plan for judicial reform
August 25 16:09 2016

The judicial watchdog has reacted furiously after the Commonwealth advertised for a lawyer to assist in reforming the Maldives’ embattled judiciary.

Hussain Zaheen, a spokesman for the Judicial Services Commission, said they were not consulted on the Commonwealth’s plans to hire a full-time in-house technical advisor to the JSC.

The lawyer is asked to assess the commission, make recommendations for reform and help it to function as an independent body, according to the Commonwealth.

“The goal is the promotion of the rule of law in Maldives by upholding both the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary in the Maldives,” the advertisement said.

“This is a decision that must be taken by the commission. We have not even discussed reforms as a commission, so this is not something we have any knowledge of,” he told Sun Online.

The Commonwealth has previously called for “swift ensuing action” to ensure separation of powers and independence of the judiciary.

The judiciary came under fire following the jailing of several opposition leaders, including former President Mohamed Nasheed, in trials Amnesty International has called “grossly unfair.”

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, the intergovernmental body’s democracy and human rights arm, has threatened to take action against the Maldives if recommendations, including that on judicial reform and release of political leaders, is not followed.

Former Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon and Attorney General Mohamed Anil negotiated with the CMAG to stay action in February and April.

Anil also sits on the ten-member JSC.

A United Nations human rights expert has called the commission’s composition politicised. “Because of this, the commission has allegedly been subjected to all sorts of external influence and has consequently been unable to function properly,” Gabriela Knaul, the UN rappouteur on independence of judges and lawyers, said in a 2013 report.

The JSC draws members from the judiciary, the parliament and the civil service commission. It is headed by Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed, who was once investigated by the commission over a sex scandal.

Ahmed Usham, the deputy attorney general, said his office was looking into the JSC’s objections to the Commonwealth’s hiring of a lawyer.

The supreme court launched an action plan and a series of workshops earlier this year, emphasizing access to justice, improving access to justice and improving efficiency.

The effort came under the judiciary was hammered in at the UN human rights council last year over “politicisation,” inadequate qualification of judges, and lack of conformity to international fair trial standards.

The opposition, however, claims the government and the judiciary are not committed to reform.