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Supreme Court justices face censure for taking over case

The case was before the civil court.



Three Supreme Court justices were investigated by the judicial watchdog for taking over a case from a trial court, Speaker Mohamed Nasheed revealed on Tuesday.

A committee of the Judicial Service Commission that probed complaints recommended advising Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi, Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla and Justice Abdulla Areef.

The oversight body did not disclose the nature of the complaints. But Nasheed – who is a JSC member by virtue of office – revealed at the start of Tuesday’s sitting of parliament that it involved the justices taking over a case that was ongoing at a court of first instance.

The controversial practice of taking over cases under “supervisory jurisdiction” contravenes a core constitutional principle, which guarantees the right to appeal lower court decisions at both the High Court and Supreme Court, Nasheed said.

The judicial watchdog is trying to restore essential features of the constitution that have been lost since its enactment in 2008, the former president declared.

Several media outlets have since reported that the lower court case in question involved the former deputy managing director of the state-owned Public Service Media company.

The Supreme Court reportedly intervened after a lawsuit was filed against Mohamed Ikram seeking enforcement of a decreed debt. It is unclear what the apex court did after ordering the civil court to hand over the case files.

At the time, Ikram’s wife Latheefa Gasim was a member of the judicial watchdog. During his tenure, Ikram also faced criticism for emceeing several political rallies with former president Abdulla Yameen.

The investigation of top judges comes after an overhaul of the JSC’s membership in the wake of presidential and parliamentary elections. The 10-member commission, tasked with investigating complaints and taking disciplinary action, is comprised of representatives from the executive, legislature and judiciary.

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.

The MDP’s legislative agenda includes amending laws to remove powers exercised by the Supreme Court to appoint and transfer judges, suspend lawyers, and take over cases from lower courts.

Ahead of the parliamentary elections, Chief Justice Didi slammed the MDP’s plans to curtail the powers of the Supreme Court and insisted that it must have “supervisory jurisdiction” over lower courts.

On Tuesday, President Solih ratified amendments to the Judicature Act passed by parliament last week to increase the size of the Supreme Court bench from five to seven justices. The president is expected to nominate two new justices.

Earlier this month, a JSC committee that was investigating suspended Supreme Court Justice Abdulla Didi recommended his dismissal. Didi is accused of regularly taking bribes, releasing suspects in return for favours and seeking government job opportunities for members of his family.