The Attorney General’s (AG) Office has appealed the Criminal Court’s ruling that the arrest of Gassan Maumoon was unconstitutional.
The AG’s Office told local media that it appealed because the court’s ruling contained “legal issues” and was delivered in a case that the police had not filed.
Gassan Maumoon, son of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was arrested on Monday, October 23 for allegedly throwing a wooden plank that struck and critically injured a 17-year-old boy during a protest outside of the family’s household, Endherimaage.
The protest was held by the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on October 20. Gassan was subsequently summoned twice by police, and later taken to Dhoonidhoo prison for further enquiry.
The Criminal Court however released Gassan under the claim that his arrest violated procedures established by the Supreme Court for operating article 46 of the constitution.
The ruling came after Gassan’s lawyers applied for a writ of ‘habeas corpus’, or release from unlawful detention. They argued that due process was violated as the circumstances of his arrest did not fall under exceptions provided for in the constitution where police could arrest suspects without an arrest warrant.
Article 46 states that, “No person shall be arrested or detained for an offence unless the arresting officer observes the offence being committed, or has reasonable and probable grounds or evidence to believe the person has committed an offence or is about to commit an offence, or under the authority of an arrest warrant issued by the court.”
President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair added that the court had cited a precedent set by the Supreme Court on a similar case, stating that a suspect should be arrested at the scene of the crime. Otherwise, said Zuhair, a suspect should be arrested at the scene where evidence is found.
Zuhair observed that the court’s policy on article 46 restricts the due course of justice.
“The police had investigated the case and detained Gassan when they thought they had enough evidence. They submitted the evidence to the court and followed the procedures in place. What other procedures should they use, especially in a time-sensitive case such as a case of violence?” he said.
Zuhair added that if the court’s claim against the police’s arrest procedures went undisputed, all individuals arrested during the protest would have to be released.
Police Superintendent Mohamed Jinah insisted at the time of the court’s ruling that the arrest was lawful as police had reasonable grounds to suspect Gassan had committed a crime and were prepared to submit early evidence.
If Gassan’s arrest was unlawful, said Jinah, “everyone police have arrested and brought before the court [for extension of detention] was arrested in violation of the constitution.”
On October 26, police released 11 suspects who had been arrested without a warrant on suspicion of having committed an offence.
When asked if the appeal was expected to overturn the court’s ruling against the police. Zuhair was optimistic.
There are two key points of argument, he said. “How was a private member of Gayoom’s family able to launch a case in the Criminal Court without first going through the Civil Court, as is the usual course of action, and secondly, how else were the police supposed to submit their evidence, other than the procedure in place, which they used?”
Gassan’s case involves another first: after the police were allegedly summoned to and “thrown out” of the Prosecutor General’s (PG) office, the PG publicly stated that it was seeking legal advice from the Supreme Court. “This is unprecedented, usually these cases are appealed to the High Court,” Zuhair said.
“I hope this is resolved quickly because there is a growing concern among a wide section of society over the impartiality of the judiciary,” he concluded.
Recently, MDP requested international assistance in overcoming the “increasingly blatant collusion between politicians loyal to the former autocratic President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and senior members of the judiciary.”
The request was made in relation to a Supreme Court case in which Gassan has contested MP Mohamed Musthafa’s election to parliament in May 2009.
“The Supreme Court case is the latest installment of an ongoing attempt by Gayoom to secure a parliamentary seat for his son, Gassan Maumoon,” a statement sent by MDP and subsequently forwarded to diplomatic missions and United Nations offices by the Foreign Ministry alleged.
Recent actions in the judicial system have indicated a deep and tangled history of politically biased judicial rulings.
The Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the watchdog body charged with overseeing the judiciary, abolished its Complaints Committee citing “efficiency”, with complaints against judges subsequently forwarded for review by the legal section and Chair Adam Mohamed Abdulla, a Supreme Court Justice.
Last year the JSC received 143 complaints concerning the conduct of judges. By its own statistics none were tabled in the commission, and only five were ever replied to.
Chair of the former complaints commission, Aishath Velezinee, was meanwhile stabbed in the street in January this year.
The JSC also failed to table or even acknowledge receipt of a report on the judiciary produced by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), which questioned whether the JSC possessed the technical ability and knowledge to investigate complaints and hold the judiciary accountable, as well as its independence.
In the wake of these developments, Zuhair said lawyers have begun forums to openly discuss allegations against the judicial system. “They are active and getting a fair amount of media coverage, I think they may formulate reforms for two laws concerning judges and the judiciary,” he said.
The laws involve the process of appointing judges to the Supreme Court, and the qualifications required of a Supreme Court judge.