Judges and magistrates of the lower courts voted on Saturday to elect their representative to the Judicial Service Commission.
Ali Shareef, chief magistrate of the Laamu judicial district, won in a landslide with 127 votes (77 percent), according to provisional results from the Department of Judicial Administration. Ahmed Hailam, chief judge of the criminal court, came a distant second with 37 votes (22 percent) and Abdul Razzaq Mohamed, chief magistrate of Gaaf Dhaal Fiyoree, only received one vote.
The turnout was 94 percent with 167 out of 178 judges casting ballots. There were two invalid votes.
Polling stations were set up by the Elections Commission on one island in each of the 21 judicial districts.
The lower courts are presently represented on the watchdog by Mohamed Easa Fulhu, a juvenile court judge whose five-year term is due to end this week.
The JSC is comprised of three judges nominated by their peers from the Supreme Court, the High Court, and the trial courts as well as the attorney general, a presidential appointee, the chair of the Civil Service Commission, the speaker of parliament, a lawmaker nominated by parliament, a member of the public chosen by parliament, and a lawyer elected by licensed practitioners.
The 10-member oversight body for the judiciary is tasked with investigating complaints against judges and taking disciplinary action.
The formerly inactive watchdog – which was accused of acting as a lobby group in defence of the judiciary – started probing complaints against top judges after an overhaul of its membership in the wake of presidential and parliamentary elections.
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.
In late June, parliament dismissed a magistrate for the first time following a recommendation by the JSC.
Investigations are ongoing against Supreme Court justices and two High Court judges as well as several magistrates and the chief judges of the civil court, criminal court and family court.
On August 7, the watchdog recommended the dismissal of Hassan Saeed, chief judge of the family court, and afforded him a 30-day period to respond to a report compiled after the investigation of a complaint submitted against him.
The JSC also recommended the dismissal of Mohamed Raib Ahmed, chief magistrate of the Kaafu judicial district, and gave him a 30-day period to respond to the investigation report. Adnan Hussain, chief magistrate of Raa atoll Maakurath, was suspended pending the outcome of a probe.
A public hearing was conducted in July over complaints submitted against the family court’s chief judge. Hassan Saeed was accused of refusing to register a sexual harassment complaint made by a female employee and telling her to make peace with the harasser.
The judge also faced a string of complaints submitted by other employees, including the former marriage registrar Ahmed Abdulla, who accused Saeed of unlawfully suspending him despite being cleared by an internal inquiry of using the court’s resources to run his own business with the help of other senior employees.
Saeed categorically denied the allegations and defended the suspension of the registrar. Members of the internal committee that exonerated Abdulla were biased, he claimed, noting his subsequent dismissal by the Department of Judicial Administration.
Court staff also complained about Saeed calling meetings to recite the Quran and making them declare the Shahada, the declaration of belief in the oneness of God.
But Saeed dismissed the complaint. “What is the problem in listening to the Quran,” he told the JSC’s investigation committee.