The judicial watchdog has abruptly transferred the criminal court’s chief judge, Abdul Bari Yousuf, to the juvenile court for undisclosed reasons.
Judge Ahmed Shakeel was also transferred from the criminal court to the family court. The transfers were made at the request of the Supreme Court, the Judicial Service Commission said in a statement issued late on Monday night.
“The Supreme Court did not specify why they wanted the judges to be transferred. The request did not elaborate it,” JSC spokesman Hassan Zaheen told the Maldives Independent.
Opposition figures have alleged that the transfers were prompted by the criminal court’s decision to throw out bribery charges raised against Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim last night.
Both Bari and Shakeel were on the three-judge panel that presided over the opposition lawmaker’s trial.
Judge Bari has been a controversial figure over his role in several high-profile trials. He was part of the bench that jailed former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim after rushed trials that drew widespread condemnation over the apparent lack of due process.
Bari was reportedly questioned by the JSC, a 10-member oversight body for the judiciary, on Monday morning, shortly after Supreme Court Justice Abdulla Areef was appointed to the commission to replace outgoing chair Justice Ali Hameed.
The criminal court’s former chief judge, Abdulla Mohamed, was meanwhile abruptly transferred to the family court in February last year. The JSC did not specify a reason for the move at the time.
Aside from opposition figures, several prominent lawyers have also questioned the legality and sincerity of the JSC’s action, which comes amid heightened political tension after ten ruling party lawmakers defected to hand the opposition alliance control of the parliament.
“Without his or her consent, a judge can only be transferred to another court as a disciplinary measure in the circumstances the JSC finds them guilty of unethical behaviour,” said lawyer Husnu Suood.
Transferring judges without a reason “compromises the independence of judges guaranteed by the constitution,” he added.
The former attorney general also criticised the Supreme Court’s role in the judge’s transfer. The apex court seized some of the JSC’s powers in January last year and subjected the transfer of judges to its approval.
“In my opinion, the apex court does not have the power to request transfer of judges from one court to another,” he said.
Suood said Bari should have been removed from his post, “but not like this and not now.”
Defence lawyer Ahmed Mahfooz also branded the JSC’s decision “illegal and unconstitutional”.
“Any action against a judge can be taken only after a disciplinary case has been proven against him,” he said.
“In my opinion the JSC’s intent can be brought into question because the decision came right after Gasim Ibrahim’s case was thrown out – a case the government was pushing for.”
Court bench transferred within hours of acquittal of opposition JP leader-PresYameen is blatantly meddling with Judiciary for political gain
— Abdulla Shahid 🎈 (@abdulla_shahid) July 11, 2017