State prosecutors push president for action on criminal justice crisis

State prosecutors today urged President Abdulla Yameen to bring an end to the criminal justice crisis caused by the leadership vacuum at the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office.

The ongoing work stoppage at the office has brought the criminal justice system to a halt and prosecutors have refused to attend court following acting PG Hussein Shameem’s resignation last week.

In a letter to the president, prosecutors called for the immediate appointment of a new PG, arguing “[J]ust because we are the PG office’s staff, we do not believe we are authorised to perform the constitutional obligations of the prosecutor general.”

Yameen had previously said he would only submit a new nominee for parliamentary approval when the newly elected People’s Majlis convenes on May 28.

The president’s previous choice for the role—his nephew Maumoon Hameed—failed to gain the required number of votes in parliament last month. In contrast to the current Majlis, pro-government parties will enjoy a health majority in the 18th Majlis.

In their letter, prosecutors disagreed with Attorney General Mohamed Anil’s advice that the most senior official at the office must now take over the PG’s responsibilities. Anil had justified his opinion claiming the country was in a “state of necessity”—a situation where extra-legal actions by state actors, designed to restore order, are deemed constitutional.

However, prosecutors said the state of necessity argument was not valid as long as the Majlis and the president were capable of performing their constitutional duties.

“If there is a state of necessity, the [state] must appoint a prosecutor general according to the law, instead of appointing a party, whose legal status will be questionable, to the job” the letter noted.

“We do not believe we can be forced to act outside established laws,” the prosecutors went on, claiming the constitution and the PG Act does not allow a third party to take over the PG’s responsibilities.

Questionable legal status

Quoting the PG Act, the prosecutors said the only party authorised to carry out the office’s responsibilities was the Deputy PG, while any other work can only be carried out to the extent stated by the leadership.

If a third party were to take over, there were no legal provisions to hold them accountable or ensure their work is impartial, they noted.

“The public must have the assurance that a third party will work without bias, and that accountability mechanisms are in place. This is because the PG’s work is directly connected to public rights,” the letter stated.

Prosecutors also stressed that there must be no question regarding the legal status of PG office representatives in the courtroom given the serious nature of criminal cases.

“Any case the prosecutor general files involves the legal rights of the defendant and their families. It further involves the rights of those who have been physically, psychologically, and financially harmed, victims of sexual and inhumane crimes, and rights of their families. It involves the public interest,” the letter said.

Although the Supreme Court has said criminal trials can continue in the absence of a PG, Druge Court Judge Mahaz Ali has said such trials would be unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the Bar Association and the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have called for the immediate appointment of a prosecutor general through the current Majlis to end the crisis.

Shameem resigned on May 6 citing the Criminal Court’s “obstruction” of criminal justice.

In his resignation statement, he said he was unable to fulfill his duties due to 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 President’s Office put out a third call for names this week, claiming the previous number of applicants had been low during the second call. Shameem had expressed interest in the position both times, while local media has speculated that a third call will allow Hameed to resubmit his application.

Office spokesman Ibrahim Muaz told Minivan News that there was, as yet, no official response to the letter sent by state prosecutors.