This article originally appeared on Ibra’s Blog. Republished with permission.
Many of my friends and colleagues, especially my ‘twitter friends’ have been inquiring me of late, about my view of President Nasheed’s decision to disregard a summons by ‘Hulhumale’ Court’.
I myself have been pondering over it as my initial reaction was that President Nasheed should not have done it. However, when I looked at the issue dispassionately and in the context of many anomalies in the Criminal Justice System of the Maldives, the case does not appear to be so simple. In fact it is rather complex, and adds to the myriad of convoluted issues we are being forced to grapple with.
It is so complex that the 140 meagre characters that twitter gives us is barely enough to expound on this particular problem. At best, it is a unique and delightful academic issue to ponder. What I write below is not meant to be a legal discourse, but more an academic and intellectual approach to analyse a social problem.
It is not helpful to consider President Nasheed’s decision to ignore the court summons just by itself to fully understand the phenomenon. One needs to consider a host of other issues to grasp the enormity of the situation.
On the face of it, anyone who is summoned by the courts should willingly do so, and anyone disobeying an order by the court should rightfully be held in contempt of court and punished for it. This is necessary for the upholding of the rule of law.
However, one needs to also consider the basic assumptions underlying these powers of the courts and the reasons for granting the courts such powers.
Among many, the following assumptions are made in relation to the courts:
- The courts will not act outside the jurisdictions granted to them by law, and any ultra vires orders by courts do not constitute a valid order which falls within the concept of contempt of court
- The courts will apply same procedures to all, and are bound by law to do so, and will not be selective in the application of law and procedures
- The courts shall not display any bias in any way towards or against any person, and most importantly will not be seen or perceived to be biased in any way
There are many other such assumptions, but I limit this discussion to the above three assumptions.
Firstly, on the matter of jurisdictions:
- There is huge contention whether Hulhumale’ Court has been granted powers by the law to try any case whatsoever. The Constitution says very clearly that trial courts will be defined and created by Law. When Parliament created courts by the Judicature Act, there was no “Hulhumale’ Court” designated as a Magistrates Court.The Supreme Court itself is still sitting on the case of the validity of the Hulhumale’ Court. It was created by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), without authority derived from Law. Therefore the validity of any orders or judgments issued by this court is questionable, and the Constitution says no one has to obey any unlawful orders, i.e, orders which are not derived from law. Therefore, President Nasheed’s decision to ignore the summons has more than reasonable legal grounds.
- The Judicature Act does make some provision for Superior Courts (Criminal Court, Civil Court, Family Court and Juvenile Court only) to appoint a panel of judges for some cases. Such panel has to be decided by the entire bench or Chief Judge of that court. In this case, a panel of judges from other courts was appointed by the JSC to Hulhumale’ Court. JSC does not have that authority by Law.If Hulhumale’ Court is legitimate, and is a Magistrate’s court, it would be the only Magistrate Court in Male’, and per the Judicature Act, would not have any other court to tie up to in order to convene a panel of judges. If it is considered part of Kaafu Atoll, then the panel should be convened from among magistrates assigned to Magistrate Courts operating within Kaafu Atoll, and the Chief Magistrate for Kaafu Atoll should convene the panel. The panel of judges convened now was convened by the JSC, and the panel includes judges from other atolls.
- The Hulhumale’ court issued a travel ban order to President Nasheed, without ever summoning him to court, and in his absence, before any charges had been presented before him. No court has the power to issue such an order under any law. The court could have issued such a bail condition after the first hearing, if there was reasonable justification to believe President Nasheed might flee the country or he might present a security risk for the community through further criminal activity.
On the basis of the above, there is more than ample grounds to contend that the summons was issued by an Unlawful Panel of Judges, sitting in an Unlawful Court, which had already issued an Unconstitutional restraining order which was ultra vires
Secondly, on the matter of selective application of procedure:
- Deputy Speaker of the Majlis Ahmed Nazim defied 11 summons and only appeared in court for the 12th summons. No action was taken against him.
- An order for Abdulla Hameed (Gayyoom’s brother who now resides in Sri Lanka) to be brought to court was issued by the Criminal Court a long time ago. However the Court has not provided an English translation of the Court Order to be submitted to Interpol. Nor have the Police contacted Sri Lankan authorities to repatriate him under the bilateral agreement which allows that. It should be noted that Sandhaan Ahmed Didi was repatriated from Sri Lanka airport under the same agreement, without even a court order, or charges being laid against him.
- There are numerous cases of prominent politicians and business tycoons disobeying court summons, and to date no one has been convicted for contempt of court for this offence. This leads to the argument that not appearing before the court on account of a summons is not an offence for which people are prosecuted even though it is a prosecutable offence. By past practice and hence precedent and customary practice, no one has to appear before the court every time a summons is issued.
Based on the above, there is more than ample grounds for President Nasheed to claim that there is no need for him to appear before the Court at the Court’s convenience and his inconvenience. Further, there is a rightful claim that the court has already exercised bias against him and that it is unlikely that he will receive a fair trial. More importantly, the fundamental principal of equal application of law and procedure has been seriously compromised.
Thirdly, on the matter of bias:
- Ample demonstration of bias has been made in the above paragraphs to start with
- One of the three judges on the bench has wrongfully authorised detention of President Nasheed before, and can be considered as biased against him
- One other judge already has cases of misconduct being investigated against him by the JSC
- The third judge is reportedly a classmate of Abdulla Mohamed in the Mauhadh Dhiraasaathul Islamiyya
- Thus there is a widely held perception that President Nasheed will not be accorded a fair trial. One of the Principles of Natural Justice is that not only should justice be done, but it must be seen to be done too
- When over 2000 cases are waiting to be prosecuted (including murder, rape, child molestation, child abuse and other serious white collar crimes) at the Prosecutor General’s Office, one asks the question why has this case been expedited beyond normal protocol
Thus there are grounds to argue that a panel of judges who issued ultra vires restraining orders on no demonstrated reasonable grounds cannot be expected to give a fair trial or judgment.
Thus, it would appear to be a reasonable decision on the part of President Nasheed that since he is not being summoned by a legitimate court, by legitimate judges through legitimate procedures, he is unlikely to get justice; and that his appearance before the court will simply whitewash a huge injustice to him, and therefore he will not appear before the court and face the consequences and fight it in his own way.
This is just a very summary description of what I think are some relevant issues surrounding the situation.
The legitimacy of courts and their orders and decisions lie in the courts and their actions being within the framework of the law, which is applied equally to all. An ultra vires decision of the court is no different from a decision by an individual to disobey the decision of the court itself.
Hence my tweet : Impunity can only be matched with impunity.
When legal systems break down to the level we are seeing, laws are not worth the paper they are written on. Anarchy rules, which comes from a very primitive instinct within human beings : survive any which way one can.
We enact laws and try to uphold the rule of law to move away from this and live in a civilised fashion. For rule of law to be upheld, all public institutions and officials have to abide by it.
It is extremely fragile. If just one disregards the rule of law and the issue is not rectified quickly, it spreads rapidly like a cancer and destroys the whole system, paving the way for anarchy. I think we are fast approaching that point. The final signs, that of treating human life with impunity on account of difference of opinion is already here. The rest is likely to follow soon.
The outlook is appears to be rather bleak. But from a systems theory perspective, this had to happen. All vestiges which held the faulty system had to break before reformation could take place. There will be chaos. There already is. It may worsen. And then, if we are lucky, out of chaos will emerge order. But what kind of order it will be depends on which paradigm wins. At this point in time, I would tentatively suggest it may be religious extremism.
Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail of the former Chairman of the Constitutional Drafting Committee of the Special Majlis, responsible for drafting the 2008 constitution
All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]