State prosecutors at the Prosecutor General’s Office have refused to attend hearings in the absence of a Prosecutor General (PG) and a deputy PG.
The office’s leadership is currently vacant with former PG Ahmed Muizz’s resignation in November 2013 and deputy PG Hussein Shameem’s resignation yesterday. Shameem said he was unable to carry out his duties due to the Criminal Court’s “obstruction” of criminal justice.
Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed told local media today the court will continue with criminal trials even in the absence of a PG or Deputy PG unless the Supreme Court indicates otherwise. Mohamed had previously halted all criminal proceedings for three weeks in January citing state failure to appoint a PG within the 30 days,
In response, PG office Spokesperson and lawyer Hussain Nashid told Minivan News state prosecutors were now in a “legal void,” and could not attend court.
“We have sent a letter to all courts where cases were scheduled, informing them we refuse to attend court, due to the legal void we are currently facing in the absence of a PG or a Deputy PG to lead us. We have not yet decided what action we will take in the future, but the general consensus is to wait till a relevant authority decides on the matter,” he said.
Shameem’s resignation and the state prosecutors’ refusal to attend court brings the criminal justice system to a halt.
Shameem has called on President Abdulla Yameen to submit a new PG nominee and the 17th People’s Majlis – currently in recess and rapidly nearing the end of its five year term – to approve a candidate immediately. The newly elected 18th People’s Majlis is to take the oath of office in late May.
Chair of the Independent Institutions Oversight Committee Ahmed Sameer has called on the current Majlis to find “a permanent solution” rather than wait on a Supreme Court ruling.
“The solution is to hold another meeting before May 28 and select a PG. I call on the relevant bodies to do so,” he told local media.
But Speaker Abdulla Shahid told Minivan News the Majlis cannot approve a new PG unless Yameen submits a new nominee. The president’s first nominee – his nephew Maumoon Hameed – narrowly failed to garner enough votes in March.
“How can the parliament sit to decide on the matter when there aren’t any submitted nominees?” he said.
President Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali was not responding to calls at the time of press.
Shahid also added that he is not authorized to call an extraordinary session unless the President declares a state of emergency or one-third of the MPs request an extraordinary session.
“If a minimum of 26 members sign a motion asking for a special meeting to be held to decide on a matter in the parliament agenda, then it can be done. The government coalition has over 26 parliament members, so they will be able to do this if they so wish,” he said.
Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan said the governing coalition has not held any discussion on the matter as many MPs belonging to the coalition government are out of capital city Malé.
“This matter had not risen back when the last meeting of the parliament was held. At the time, there was no indication that the Deputy PG would resign. So we haven’t really discussed the matter yet. I believe that we might be having an internal meeting relevant to the matter tonight,” he said.
Obstruction of justice
In his resignation statement yesterday, 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.
The Criminal Court and PG office have been at loggerheads since January, with the court agreeing to proceed with criminal cases only after two Supreme Court orders in three weeks. However, the court formulated new procedures to delay and impede the PG office’s ability to submit criminal cases, Shameem has previously said.
“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 yesterday.
MP Sameer contended Shameem cannot resign in the absence of a PG. It is the PG who appoints a deputy and hence the deputy cannot resign if there is no PG, he argued.
“Surely, the President cannot accept this resignation. That is something that can be done by a Prosecutor General. There is no one at the moment to accept the Deputy PG’s resignation. However, if Shameem is not getting the necessary cooperation and is unable to fulfill his duties, then he can stop serving for the time being. I do not see any other possibilities in this matter,” Sameer told Haveeru.
But lawyers have told Minivan News no person can be “forced” to remain in any particular position.
“The Deputy PG can most definitely resign. A person cannot be forced to stay in a position based on the possible outcomes of a resignation. If the PG can resign, then the Deputy PG can resign too. If the law does not define a course of action in the instance that the country is lacking a PG and a Deputy, it is the lawmakers who must come up with a solution. It cannot be reason to force someone to remain in a position against his will,” lawyer Mohamed Shafaz Wajeeh said.
Another lawyer – on condition of anonymity – echoed Wajeeh’s views, adding “in the instance that we did not have a PG, it was the Deputy who was answerable to the oversight committee in parliament. Under that same logic, he can also resign if the PG can. The law must be interpreted in such a way that it does not allow for anyone to be in any position under force.”