The High Court has decided today (February 9) that it does not have the jurisdiction to deliberate on the process in which the Hulhumalé Magistrate Court’s bench was formed.
The ruling was made with regards to a procedural issue raised by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) after former President and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) leader Mohamed Nasheed had challenged the legality of the bench.
The judicial watchdog had raised a procedural issue, claiming that the High Court does not have the jurisdiction to oversee the case as the bench had been formed on the advise of the Supreme Court.
The controversial court was formed specifically to oversee Nasheed’s trial for the January 2012 detention of Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed. Legal challenges to the court have seen the case stalled since April 2013.
The opposition leader today urged Maldivians to take direct action against persistent injustices in the courts, while his legal team claimed today’s decision contradicted prior decisions by the High Court to consider related cases.
In the ruling, the High Court bench presiding over the case unanimously decided that under regulations governing the relevant procedure, “there are no grounds on which the case can proceed in this court any further”.
The High Court’s decision read that, under the regulation, the court can deliberate on decisions of the lower courts, but not on their composition.
Today’s hearing was immediately concluded after Judge Abbas Shareef – presiding over the case – read out the ruling.
Nasheed’s legal team has subsequently submitted the case to the Civil Court, again challenging the composition of the Hulhumalé court bench.
“It is not a trial that is being conducted here”: Nasheed
Speaking to press after the hearing, Nasheed said the “trial is being hastened without due process in order to prevent me from getting the protection of the new penal code which would be enacted in April”.
He also accused the government of using the judiciary to threaten and intimidate political opponents, stating that the Maldivian judiciary is unable to deliver a “free and fair trial, especially with regards to cases against me”.
Nasheed claimed that the father of one of the High Court judges was ordered by a lower court to pay a substantial amount of money owed, suggesting undue influence in the case to produce a specific ruling.
Nasheed told press that he will consult both his and other international lawyers regarding his impending trial.
“It is not a trial that is being conducted here,” commented Nasheed, urging Maldivians to stand up against injustice by “protesting and going on strikes” as “this might happen to anyone tomorrow, although it happened to me today”.
Meanwhile, a statement by Nasheed’s legal team argued that the decision of the High Court had contradicted its earlier ruling which found it had the jurisdiction to deliberate on the legality of the Hulhumalé Magistrates Court.
“The High Court had previously decided that the case can be heard in the court and the decision was announced during the trial,” read the statement, noting that two of the three judges present today had delivered the previous ruling.
Judge Ali Sameer and Judge Shuaib Hussain Zakariyya had presided over the case along with Judge Ahmed Shareef before the latter was demoted to the Juvenile Court in August 2014 and replaced by Judge Abbas Shareef.
Nasheed’s lawyers have previously challenged – unsuccessfully – the establishment of a magistrates court in the Malé suburb, arguing that Hulhumalé is considered to be part of Malé City under the Decentralisation Act and therefore does not require a separate court.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul has previously noted that the “appointment of judges to the case, has been set up in an arbitrary manner outside the parameters laid out in the laws”.
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