The High Court has ruled in favour of the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court rejecting an appeal filed by former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Nasheed is being tried in the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court for the controversial detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.
The former president had contested the Hulhumale’-based court’s ruling on three procedural issues raised during an initial hearing of his case in October 2012.
Among these issues, Nasheed’s legal team argued that the Hulhumale-based magistrate court could not hold hearings on a nearby island – in this case the capital Male’. Moreover, a summoning order issued to Nasheed by the court on September 26, 2012, was inconsistent with existing laws, his lawyers claimed.
Finally, Nasheed’s representatives claimed Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court was formed in contrast with the Judicature Act.
Issuing a verdict today, the three member judges panel overseeing the appeal ruled that there were no “legal grounds” to declare the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court and its decisions illegitimate.
“Therefore, based on the points highlighted remains as such, the sitting judges unanimously agreed that the High Court had no legal grounds to declare the decisions made by Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court in its ruling no. 397/HMC/2012 on October 9, 2012 illegitimate,” read the verdict.
Responding to the first procedural point raised by Nasheed, the High Court stated that holding a hearing in a spacious venue in Male’ was essential to achieve the purpose of articles 42(c) and 42(d) of the constitution, demanding transparent and open court hearings.
The court also declared that holding such a hearing in Male’ did not compromise the rights of any party and that there existed no law barring a court from holding a hearing in a different venue.
The court also noted that the holding of trials in different venues was a practice carried out by other courts of law.
Regarding the legitimacy of the magistrate court, the High Court said it did not have the authority to overrule a decision by the higher court, despite an appeal by Nasheed’s legal team to the contrary.
The High Court claimed additionally that as per the constitution, the Supreme Court remains the highest authority in deciding legal matters – therefore its decisions are final and binding.
The Supreme Court has previously declared that the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court is legitimate and can operate as a court of law, following a request by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that it clarify the court’s legality.
Highlighting the third procedural point, the High Court ruled that the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court has the legal authority to issue a summons and that no barrier existed to issuing such orders.
The High Court also stated that principles followed by both itself and the Supreme Court did not limit the magistrate court from issuing such an order.
Immediately following the ruling, President Nasheed was served a summons to attend the Hulhumale’ Magistrate court on February 10.
MDP response to verdict
In a statement following the verdict, Nasheed said the decision “clearly means I will not be allowed a fair trial.”
Former MDP Chairperson MP Mariya Didi noted that the High Court concluded the case after only two successive hearings, adding that it seemed the Hulhumale’ Court “had prepared summons before the High Court judgement was even delivered.”
“Today was a travesty of justice and demonstrates how much President Nasheed’s case is a politically motivated trial,” she said.
Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel – formerly Justice Minister during President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30 year government – has meanwhile told local media that swift prosecution of Nasheed before the Presidential Election was necessary to protect the “political and social fabric of the Maldives”.
“Every single day that passes without a verdict will raise questions over the justice system of the Maldives in the minds of the people,” Jameel told newspaper Haveeru.
The Prosecutor General (PG) pressed charges against the former President in the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court on the grounds that holding the trial in Male’ at the Criminal Court represented a conflict of interest on behalf of Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, whom the case concerned.
The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) appointed the three-member panel of judges to oversee the trial of the former president. The Commission’s members include two of Nasheed’s direct political opponents, including Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid – Deputy of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) – and Gasim Ibrahim, a resort tycoon, media owner, MP and leader of the Jumhoree Party (JP), also a member of the governing coalition.
While maintaining the trial was a politically-motivated attempt to block Nasheed from contesting the election – scheduled now for September 7 – the former president’s legal team raised procedural points challenging the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.
They argued that the court was created by the JSC in violation of the Judicature Act, and had no legal or constitutional authority.
The team raised the issue during the first hearing of the trial held on October 2012, along with other procedural inconsistencies, but all were rejected.
The former President’s legal team subsequently lodged an appeal in the High Court challenging the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court’s ruling on the procedural points.
Despite its initial rejection of the points, the High Court later accepted the appeal. It therefore issued an injunction ordering the magistrate court to suspend Nasheed’s trial until a decision on the procedural points raised by Nasheed’s legal team was reached.
Nasheed’s legal team said it was prepared to appeal the case in the Supreme Court depending on the outcome.
Nasheed’s legal team were not responding to calls at time of press.