Parliament on Monday voted to remove Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi and Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla from the Supreme Court bench as recommended by the Judicial Service Commission.
The watchdog suspended the pair for 60 days after probing ethical misconduct related to 17 instances where the apex court violated the constitution or usurped powers of parliament and other state institutions.
Reflecting the ruling party’s nearly three-quarters majority in the 87-member house, 69 lawmakers voted in favour of impeaching the justices. Nine opposition lawmakers voted No and one abstained.
During the final debate, opposition lawmakers accused the government and ruling party of “demolishing” the constitution and undermining the independence of the judiciary.
Both Didi and Adam Mohamed refused to cooperate with the Judicial Service Commission’s inquiry, contending that the watchdog lacks the constitutional authority to conduct probes into the merit of decisions made by a judge. After refusing to accept a summons and investigation report, the chief justice also refused to accept his suspension over alleged due process violations, accusing JSC members of disregarding their oath, overstepping constitutional bounds and seeking to intimidate Supreme Court justices.
But the watchdog insisted that it only investigates violations of the judge’s code of conduct. “The JSC strictly adheres to the procedures stipulated in the law and ensures that due process is afforded to the investigated judge,” the commission said last week.
Along with a lawyer elected by licensed practitioners, the 10-member oversight body is comprised of three representatives each from the executive, legislature and judiciary. The JSC’s majority tilted in the wake of presidential and parliamentary elections. With its landslide victory in April’s parliamentary elections, the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party also secured well above the two-thirds majority needed to remove judges and went on to sack former justice Abdulla Didi.
According to the constitution, a judge can be removed if the JSC finds that he is grossly incompetent or guilty of gross misconduct. A resolution submitted to the effect must be approved by a two-thirds majority of MPs present and voting.
The impeachment votes for Didi and Adam Mohamed were tabled in Monday’s agenda after parliament’s judiciary committee reviewed the JSCs recommendation and checked whether due process was followed.
The JSC also considered an assessment of the government’s judicial reform proposals conducted by retired South African justice Johann Kriegler, who called the Supreme Court “a major threat to democratic rule in the Maldives, not because of any fault in the constitution but because of the unlawful conduct of the court over the last decade.”
Kriegler, who worked as a consultant for the Attorney General, recommended a JSC investigation of the incumbent justices “on charges of gross misconduct in undermining the constitution.” Criminal charges could be raised if there was “reliable evidence of personal corruption or other impropriety,” he suggested.
Violations listed by a JSC report sent to parliament in August:
- Halting the JSC’s suspension of Justice Didi with a stay order issued on June 13.
- Striking down articles in the Judicial Service Commission Act to bring the Department of Judicial Administration under the direct supervision of the apex court with a ruling in December 2008.
- Striking down articles in the Judicature Act with a ruling in March 2011 to abolish the Judicial Council created by the new law.
- Taking over regulating the legal profession and licensing lawyers from the Attorney General’s office with a ruling in November 2015.
- The en masse suspension of 54 lawyers who signed a petition for judicial reform.
- Shortening the period for appealing lower court judgments to 10 days.
- Taking over the JSC’s power to transfer judges with new rules enacted in September 2014.
- Sentencing former ruling party lawmaker Ahmed Nazim to life imprisonment – seven months after the appeal period expired – and overturning the judgment three years later.
- Arbitrarily sacking a civil court judge in February 2017 after declaring that she has “lost the legitimacy, legal capacity, and authority” to remain on the bench.
- Removing the former president and vice president of the Elections Commission two weeks before the March 2014 parliamentary elections and handing the pair a suspended jail sentence of six months.
- Issuing an 11-point guideline restricting the powers of the Human Rights Commission after initiating criminal charges against HRCM members in “suo moto” proceedings that allow the court to launch hearings and act as both plaintiff and judge.
- Overruling parliament’s dismissal of former Civil Service Commission president Mohamed Fahmy for sexual harassment.
- Blocking the JSC from evaluating the performance of judges in August 2013.
- Issuing an anti-defection ruling in July 2017 that stripped a dozen lawmakers of their seats and deprived 60,000 constituents of representation for more than a year.
- Declaring itself the final authority to determine the validity of the parliament’s removal of the president, vice president, ministers, judges, auditor general, prosecutor general and members of independent institutions. The legitimacy of no-confidence or impeachment votes was subjected to a Supreme Court review.
- Rescinding parts of a shock ruling on February 1, 2018. The order was signed by the full bench but the part for the release of political prisoners was rescinded by three justices after the arrestof former chief justice Abdulla Saeed and justice Ali Hameed.
- Imposing rules concerning the administration of other courts and the conduct of judges through circulars and letters, effectively legislating or usurping parliament’s law-making powers.