Lawmakers of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party on Sunday called for an immediate overhaul of the Supreme Court bench as parliament debated a report about unlawful decisions by the top court.
The report sent to parliament by the Judicial Service Commission last week flagged 17 instances since 2008 where the Supreme Court violated the constitution or usurped the powers of parliament and independent state institutions.
Most MDP MPs who spoke during the debate said the removal of all five Supreme Court justices was long overdue.
The JSC report contained detailed proof of their efforts to exercise unconstitutional powers and “establish a judicial dictatorship,” said MP Mickail Naseem, decrying the failure to take “meaningful” action against the errant justices.
With its landslide victory in April’s parliamentary elections, the MDP secured well above the two-thirds majority needed to remove judges from the bench. Judicial reform was also a key pledge of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih when he won last year’s presidential election as the MDP-led coalition’s candidate.
MP Yaugoob Abdulla suggested that debating the report was a waste of time as the public has granted the MDP a mandate to remove the justices.
“The people are still on the streets when we take three months pay and go home. We are going [to recess] without completing the work the Maldivian people gave us. I believe this work can be done in a single day,” he said.
The MP for Dhaandhoo said he was unaware of the MDP’s plan to reform the judiciary and questioned the party’s sincerity.
In late June, parliament dismissed a magistrate for the first time following a recommendation by the Judicial Service Commission, a 10-member oversight body tasked with investigating complaints against judges.
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 its majority tilted in the wake of the parliamentary elections when Speaker Mohamed Nasheed and MDP MP Hisaan Hussain became members.
Last month, an investigation committee of the JSC recommended the dismissal of Supreme Court Justice Abdulla Didi, who is accused of regularly taking bribes, releasing suspects in return for favours and seeking government job opportunities for members of his family.
According to the constitution, a judge can be removed by a two-thirds majority if the JSC finds that he is grossly incompetent or guilty of gross misconduct.
– Injuries and usurpations –
During the debate, several MDP MPs also noted other instances of overreach and egregious decisions by the Supreme Court that were not listed in the JSC report, including the annulment of the 2013 presidential election and suspension of lawyers over tweets.
The violations listed by the JSC:
- 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 order for the release of political prisoners was rescinded by three justices after the arrest of 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 arrogating parliament’s law-making powers.