Legal experts have accused the Supreme Court of effectively removing the right of appeal after the bench shortened the time in which an appeal case can be filed at a higher court to 10 days.
In a ruling issued yesterday (January 27), the court revoked Article 15 and 42 of the Judicature Act and Article 85 of the Employment Act – which stipulates the current appeal durations – while a Supreme Court circular signed by Chief Justice Abdullah Saeed announced the new time frame.
The move has prompted legal experts to accuse the court of infringing upon the constitutional right to an appeal.
“They have taken out the appeal process,” says former Judicial Services Commission (JSC) member turned whistle-blower Aishath Velezinee. “Ten days for appeal will deprive people of the right to appeal.”
Another legal expert – who wished to remain anonymous – suggested that the new time frame would make it practically impossible for many people to lodge an appeal.
The Supreme Court ruling – signed by all five of the Supreme Court justices – said the current regulations are in violation of Article 42 of the Constitution which states the right to a “fair and public hearing within a reasonable time”.
The Judicature Act currently states that appeals to the higher courts will only be accepted within 90 days, while 180 days is allowed for cases adjudicated in island courts outside of the capital Malé.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court circular stated that the establishment of two regional High Court branches under amendments to the Judicature Act means all appeal cases should be appealed in the region of the court issuing the decision.
According to the amendments passed by parliament last month – which also resulted in the controversial dismissal of two Supreme Court Judges – the nine member High Court will be divided into three branches with three judges assigned to each.
The two regional branches in the North and South will be allowed to hear appeals against magistrate court verdicts while only the Malé branch will be allowed to hear challenges to laws and regulations.
Velezinee claimed that by changing the regulations, the Supreme Court is “taking over the functions of the legislator” in an “attack on the Constitution”.
“No right is guaranteed anymore,” said the outspoken critic of the judiciary. “Supreme Court is under the constitution, but now it has gone above the Constitution.”
Velezinee has previously accused the Supreme Court of dominating the entire judiciary, and compromising the independence of the lower courts, via its close oversight of the Department of Judicial Administration.
Similar suggestions made by the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) to the UN Human Rights Council last year prompted the initiation of ‘suo moto’ proceedings on charges of undermining the Constitution and the sovereignty of the country.
Velezinee was barred from the public gallery during the proceedings of the HRCM case in October.
Meanwhile, a prominent legal expert said that by shortening the appeal period, the Supreme Court is “trying to limit a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution”.
“The right to a timely trial should not overlap the right to appeal,” he said. “It is going to be logistically and practically impossible for most people to prepare an appeal case and submit it within ten days.”
He pointed out that most atolls do not have the adequate transportation systems to the nearest court branch, saying that it might be easier for islanders to travel to Malé to file an appeal.
Both he and Velezinee suggested that it normally takes in excess of two weeks to acquire the court report required to adequately prepare for an appeal case.
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