A Maldivian legal expert has described the use of foreign legal experts in the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed as “unique”, pointing out that the Maldivian legal system makes it particularly difficult for such experts to contribute to proceedings.
Mohamed Shafaz Wajeeh, a practising layer in Male’ and former Director of the Legal Director at the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) said that while foreign advisers to corporate clients was fairly common, foreign experts for a specific criminal case was not.
“From a common law/international standards perspective, I believe foreign legal involvement is very much prevalent, especially if you consider the number of foreign legal experts who would be advising corporate clients operating in the Maldives in resorts, major telecom providers etc,” Wajeeh told Minivan News.
“However, the Nasheed trial is unique in that common law/international standards perspective expertise is being brought in for stated involvement in a specific criminal court case, as part of the defense team, not merely on a corporate/commercial transactional matter in an advisory capacity,” he added.
Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) revealed earlier this month that it was to add the expertise of two UK-based lawyers to the legal team working on the Judge Abdulla Mohamed detention case.
Sir Ivan Lawrence QC and Barrister Ali Mohammed Azhar were brought in to work alongside Hisaan Hussain, Abdulla Shair. On Thursday, it was announced that Kirsty Brimelow QC – a human rights expert – would also join Nasheed’s defense team.
Azhar is an expert in Shariah law – the Maldives legal system encompasses a combination of common and Shariah legal practices.
“It is not uncommon for foreign legal experts to be involved in transactional matters in an advisory capacities, but virtually never as Shari’ah experts (in recent history),” said Wajeeh. “What’s unique is for foreign legal experts to be involved in a criminal case – in the defence team, and especially in a court case.”
Lawrence, Azhar and Brimelow will work alongside Hisaan Hussain, Abdulla Shair, Hassan Latheef and Ahmed Adbulla Afeef – although the latter two have been barred from appearing in court on technical grounds.
Afeef will not be allowed to attend the hearings in an official capacity after failing to sign the Supreme Court’s new “Regulation on Lawyers practicing law in the courts of Maldives”.
Wajeeh cited this particular regulation as “disturbing” and “dangerous” – further sign, he feels, of the need for major reform of the judicial arm of the state which he described as undeveloped and “primeval”.
Latheef cannot appear as he has been listed by the Prosecutor General (PG) as a witness to the detention of the Judge. Latheef described the inclusion of his name on this list as unnecessary and “irrelevant” as the judge’s detention was not in question.
In the press release announcing Brimelow’s inclusion in the case, appearing on Nasheed’s website, it was acknowledged that legal restrictions would also prevent any of the UK experts appearing in court.
“I imagine they would be severely restricted – if not intentionally, then due to the structure of the legal system,” said Wajeeh.
“Foreign legal experts can’t attend as lawyers, they can’t attend in Nasheed’s stead either (only lawyers may represent individuals in criminal cases),” he added.
“I’m not really sure if they can sit at the bench even. My understanding would be, if the foreign legal experts are to be allowed into the Court room at all, they would have to go in and sit in the public gallery,” he continued.
Latheef explained that Ms Brimelow was the only member of the legal team scheduled to be present in Male’ for the trial, and that the team would be applying for a permit from the Attorney General to allow her to appear in court.
“This has been done once before,” explained Latheed, “although the lawyer involved was married to a Maldivian.”
Wajeeh also noted that there were certain procedural factors which would make it difficult for UK experts to fully participate in the case, in particular the use of Dhivehi in the courts without English translation services being readily available.
“The foreign lawyers would of course be free to offer their views and opinions to the appointed defence team on drafting submissions and responses in defence of Nasheed, given the documents are efficiently translated for their use,” explained Wajeeh.
“This would mean they could play a minimal role in the formal hearing, although could potentially play a crucial role in how the defence argument takes shape.”
Nasheed’s trial continues tomorrow at 4:00pm at the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, which is has been temporarily relocated to Male’ for the purpose of the case.