Majority of criminal trials have been cancelled for the third day over legal issues caused by an ongoing leadership vacuum at the independent Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office.
State prosecutors ended a weeklong strike on Tuesday and started attending trials following a Supreme Court ruling, but the majority of hearings were cancelled for the third day today as courts remain unclear on how to interpret the ruling.
The strike came in response to acting PG Hussein Shameem’s resignation and brought the criminal justice system to a halt.
Prosecutors said they were in a “legal void” and expressed concern over lack of accountability in the absence of a PG or deputy PG.
However, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday ordered prosecutors to resume work “without any further excuse” claiming there was no legal basis for them evading responsibilities handed over by the prosecutor general or his deputy.
Subsequently, the Criminal Court on Tuesday said it would only proceed with cases if prosecutors had a document signed by the leadership authorising them to represent the state in a specific case.
However, local media said the courts were in disarray with only some judges following the policy.
In response, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussein sent a letter to Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed stating that cases should proceed if prosecutors were authorised by the senior most official at the PG office to represent the state.
Faiz reminded the Criminal Court that its ruling said the criminal justice system must not come to a halt.
The Supreme Court in its ruling said the country was in a “state of necessity” where extra legal actions by the government could be deemed lawful.
However, critics have said the state of necessity argument could only be valid if either the executive and legislative branches were in a situation where they cannot carry out their constitutional duty and approve a new PG.
Former PG Ahmed Muizz resigned in November 2013 shortly before a vote of no confidence at the People’s Majlis.
The People’s Majlis rejected President Abdulla Yameen’s first choice – his nephew Maumoon Hameed – for the job in March.
Deputy PG Shameem headed the office for five months in the absence of a PG, but resigned on May 6 citing the Criminal Court’s “obstruction” of criminal justice.
In his resignation statement, Shameem highlighted the Criminal Court’s failure to prosecute foreigners involved in drug trafficking, delays in issuing rulings on drug related offenses, and “unreasonable obstacles” in filing cases at the court.
“These issues obstruct the proper functioning of the criminal justice system. I am deeply saddened to note the extreme delay on the part of those who have the power to address these issues,” he said.
Shameem called on the state to approve a new candidate immediately, but Yameen has said he will only submit a new nominee to the newly elected parliament, which is set to convene on May 28. The ruling coalition enjoys a healthy majority in the new Majlis.
The current Majlis is in recess, but Speaker Abdulla Shahid has said an extraordinary session could be scheduled on the request of one-third of sitting MPs.
Local media has today revealed that seven candidates have applied for the vacant PG’s position. The third call for applications were closed today at 3pm.
Former attorney general and President of the Bar Association Husnu Suood said the apex court’s ruling might allow the status quo to continue indefinitely.
“I am saddened the Supreme Court did not allocate a time period in which the president and parliament must appoint a new PG. The way to uphold the constitution, the real solution to this problem, is to appoint a new PG as soon as possible,” he said.