Judge Didi's suspension: An act of revenge?

The laws of the Judicial Service Commission Act are very clear. Article 20) c) of the Act states as follows:

"A member shall not involve to any extent, in a matter concerning their self-interest, personal involvement, or financial or any other personal gain, when such a matter is being decided by the Commission. When the member becomes aware of the aforesaid connection, the member shall inform other members of the Commission and refrain from being involved in deciding on the matter".

The decision made by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) last Tuesday was a landmark decision. The commission made a collective decision to suspend a Justice of the highest Court in the Maldives; the Supreme Court. Allegations of bribery were made against Justice Abdulla Didi, and presented to the JSC by Speaker of the Parliament, former president Mohamed Nasheed. The police were involved, launching investigations into the case.

As the Speaker of the Parliament, Nasheed is a member of the JSC by default. Nasheed attended and voted to suspend Didi in the JSC meeting that made the decision to issue the suspension. The said meeting was the very first JSC meeting that Nasheed attended after his appointment.

The bribery claims against Didi raised by Nasheed allege that the Supreme Court Justice accepted a bribe of US$ 1 million to jail Nasheed for 13 years back in 2015 over terror charges. Back then, Judge Didi was at the Criminal Court, and presided over the bench that sentenced Nasheed. Defending Nasheed on the case as his attorney was current JSC member, Hisaan Hussain.

If the judge had indeed accepted a bribe to pass a certain judgement, an injustice was done to President Nasheed. No doubt, the victim in this case is clearly President Nasheed. The case against Judge Didi was submitted by Nasheed. In this instance, Nasheed is more than personally involved in the case. Doesn't it qualify as a conflict of interest if Nasheed is on the same commission that is investigating his own allegations against a judge?

Former Vice President and former Justice Minister, Dr. Mohamed Jameel Ahmed described Didi's suspension as an act of revenge. Suspending a Supreme Court judge without the due process takes away the constitutional privileges assured for judges, he stated. Furthermore, the act was against the very principles he had advocated for in bringing the current government to power, he added.

"Suspended SC Judge Didi is one of the judges that passed sentence on ex-Pres & Majlis Speaker Mohamed Nasheed. Soon after securing parliamentary majority & thereby JSC, we see this full blown attack on the very judge. Isn't this revenge? Is this true colour of democracy? To suspend judges of the highest court without due process erodes constitutional privileges accorded to them. It's also against one of the fundamental principles we advocated in bringing this govt; that there should be no witch-hunt in anything or against anyone", said the ex-VP in a tweet published following the suspension.

While the JSC Act clearly states that members should refrain from being involved in deciding on a matter that concerns their personal involvement or self interest, Nasheed's actions have prompted criticism from the public. While the JSC continues to be an entity towards which the reprove of senior government officials are directed, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has stated on multiple occasions that the structure of the commission paves way for courthouses to be politically influenced. The President has described JSC as an institution through which one power of the country can exert influence on the other.

Comprising of ten members, the JSC is made up of:

1. The Speaker of the People’s Majlis;
2. A Judge of the Supreme Court, other than the Chief Justice,
3. A Judge of the High Court,
4. A Judge of the Lower Courts,
5. A member of the People’s Majlis,
6. A member of the general public,
7. The President of the Civil Service Commission;
8. A person appointed by the President;
9. The Attorney General;
10. A lawyer elected from among the lawyers licensed to practice in the Maldives.

JSC is still structured the same way. Only two or three members of the commission have changed with the change in government. While the said members support the current government, even they themselves believe the structure of the commission leads to undue political influences.

Chief Justice Dr. Ahmed Abdulla Didi has previously voiced his concern on the matter. He had wisely stated that independent courthouses will cease to exist if politicians and political party leaders, or those advocating in the interest of politicians and leaders are involved in the JSC. His statement referred to then Speaker of the parliament Gasim Ibrahim - the leader of Jumhooree Party. Today, he has been replaced with former president of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed - the leader of the biggest political party in the Maldives.

"The dismissal of judges should not be carried out through a political process. If judges are appointed and dismissed by institutions that are under the influence of political parties and politicians, the exertion of undue control would hinder the work of the judges, and increase the chance of judges being biased, thereby risking the independence and integrity of the courthouses", the Chief Justice has said.

The laws of the Judicial Service Commission Act are very clear. A member shall not involve to any extent, in a matter concerning their self interest, personal involvement, or financial or any other personal gain. The member should refrain from being involved in deciding on the matter. Is anyone watching?