They all said it was not up to them
Last week, the story of a senior judge who resigned from her post because of what she described as her unfair treatment caught my eyes. Dr Azmiralda Zahir, the last woman to be a judge, said her circumstances had not been taken into account by her mail superiors when they transferred her to a regional High Court Branch. For example, they had not given her the opportunity to describe to them that she is the sole carer of her two young children, aged four and six; and that it would be difficult for her to provide them with the same level of care and education that they could receive in Male.
Obviously, when she found out about her transfer, she tried to reverse the decision but received no support from court officials. No one in the judiciary was prepared to help her. She was not given the opportunity to explain her problems to a responsible judicial authority.
Having found no help from judicial authorities, the judge took the next step and complained to the Judicial Services Commission. This body is set up to do at least two important things: first to ensure judicial impartiality. So far it has completely failed in that task. Not once has the Judicial Services Commission questioned the most obvious breaches of impartiality in trials and appeal processes that have happened in the Maldives in the past couple of years.
The Judicial Services Commission is also there to ensure that any judicial misconduct is addressed, remedied or punished. In that task, too, this Commission has not done much to take any credit for.
Judge Azmiralda wrote to the Judicial Services Commission. She waited and waited, and no one got back to her. This Commission simply ignored her complaint, proving once again that it would take no action in the cases that might not suit the wishes of the government.
Feeling that she would not be getting any support from the Judicial Services Commission, judge Azmiralda contacted the President, only to be told that the President cannot intervene in a judicial matter. Does that not sound grand? In fact it is not grand at all; just a well-rehearsed excuse: it amounts to evading responsibility by the President for a wrong doing in the system that the relevant institutions of the state are not addressing. The President is obliged under the Constitution to ensure that such shortcomings are investigated and remedied.
So why this unexplained inaction by everyone? in the case of judge Azmiralds, there seems to be other considerations that may have reinforced the President’s rejection of the judge’s appeal. The change in the structure of the High Court, which affected judge Azmiralda, came about at a time when the appeal process in the case of former Defence Minister, Col. Nazim, who was sentenced to 11 years in a grossly unfair trial, was under way. His appeal was stalled by these changes. No judicial authority explained why they were not dealing with his appeal, adding to the confusion as to which judicial branch would be dealing with his appeal. When it was clear that it would be the Male branch, judges that were considered to be more independent within the judicial hierarchy, were removed. They included the then chief justice, another judge of the Supreme Court and then it was Judge Azmiralda’s turn.
Having got no support from the Presidnet, Judge Azmiralda then approached the Parliament as a last resort, but there, too, she got no support whatsoever.
The case of this judge has exposed complete failure of the relevant institutions of the state to address her complaint. A judge has been demoted and removed from her post, but the judicial authorities, the Judicial Services Commission, the President, and the Parliament have simply evaded their responsibility to address her complaint. Is this not incredible?
(Abbas Faiz is Human rights expert and South Asia specialist with 31 years experience working as South Asia Specialist for Amnesty International, focussing on Bangladesh and the Maldives. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FocusMaldives.)