Parliament on Wednesday approved legal changes for the Department of Judicial Administration to function under the judiciary’s oversight body.
The DJA – which is tasked with public relations, management of the courts and providing facilities, training, archiving systems and security for judges – was brought under the direct control of the Supreme Court in May 2014.
Amendments proposed to the Judicial Service Commission Act by MP Moosa Siraj to bring the department under the watchdog were passed with 63 votes in favour.
Before it was voted through, the bill was amended by parliament’s judiciary committee to state that the existing department would be dissolved. As a result, Dr Ahmed Nazeer, chief judicial administrator and the DJA’s top official, would lose his job upon ratification of the amendments by the president.
The new chief would be appointed by the Judicial Service Commission.
Ahmed Majid, chancellor of the Judicial Academy, would also be removed from his post after the law comes into force. The JSC law was also amended to bring the academy under the new judicial administration department. The new chief judicial administrator would be in charge of the academy and a new chancellor would have to be appointed.
The criteria for membership of the JSC – a 10-member commission tasked with investigating complaints against judges – was also revised to raise the age of eligibility from 25 to 30 years. If a candidate for the commission is a lawyer, he or she must have a license to advocate at the Supreme Court.
Other changes included adding a provision to state that a JSC decision to remove a judge could not be appealed at any court.
Judicial reform was a key pledge of both President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and his Maldivian Democratic Party’s campaign for April’s parliamentary elections. With its landslide victory, the MDP secured well above the two-thirds majority needed to remove judges from the bench.
Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi slammed the MDP’s proposals ahead of the parliamentary elections as the ruling party’s legislative agenda included amending laws to curtail powers exercised by the Supreme Court.
– Judicial administration –
The DJA was formed by the JSC on October 1, 2008 to replace the defunct justice ministry following the adoption of the new constitution in August 2008.
The new department was envisioned to function under the JSC. But in December 2008, the Supreme Court brought the department under its remit with a ruling to that effect.
The DJA was reestablished by the Judicature Act in 2010 to function under the Judicial Council created by the new law. However, the Supreme Court abolished the council in a controversial ruling that struck down the relevant articles in the Judicature Act.
The DJA has since been functioning under the direct supervision of the apex court.
In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released in May 2013, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers wrote that as a consequence of the Supreme Court’s ruling abolishing the Judicial Council, “the only platform for internal communication within the judiciary where difficulties, challenges, experiences and opinions could be exchanged, disappeared.”
“Many interlocutors reported that the dissolution of the Judicial Council and the direct control of the Supreme Court over the Department of Judicial Administration have had the effect of centralising administrative decisions in the hands of the Supreme Court,” the special rapporteur stated.
“This has undoubtedly contributed to the strong impression that lower courts are excluded from the administration of justice and decision-making processes.”