The Ministry of Home Affairs has dissolved the Maldives Bar Association (MBA) for failure to change its name as per a Supreme Court ruling and appoint a governing committee.
A Home Ministry letter also said the organisation had failed to submit an annual report as per regulations.
The Bar Association – formed in April 2013 to empower, lobby, and advocate on behalf of legal practitioners – is headed by veteran lawyer and former Attorney General Husnu Al Suood.
On April 9, Supreme Court told the Home Ministry to ask the organisation to change its name within 14 days, claiming the Bar Association title could only be used for an official body regulated by law with the participation of the entire legal community and judicial sector.
Speaking to Minivan News, Suood he believed the government had dissolved the Bar Association claiming it posed a threat to national security.
“We are aware that one of the reasons for dissolving the Bar Association is that it poses a threat to national security and sovereignty of the Maldives as per national security intelligence,” he said.
Suood said the organisation would challenge the Home Ministry’s decision at court and condemned the limited space for civil society in the Maldives.
“We feel that there is no space for civil society in the Maldives. It has come to our knowledge that the Home Ministry has temporarily suspended registration of NGOs until they have received legal opinion from the Attorney General’s Office,” he added.
The Bar Association had refused to change its name, but said it would step aside should new legislation on the legal profession provide for a Bar Council.
A 2013 UN report recommended that a “self-regulating independent bar association or council” be established to oversee the legal profession.
Suood noted that the MBA currently has over one hundred members, representing around one fifth of the country’s practising lawyers, with a full membership drive waiting until new legislation is completed.
The Supreme Court’s initial letter to the Home Ministry came in the aftermath of a Bar Association statement calling for the suspension of Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed pending an investigation into the judge’s alleged appearance in a series of sex tapes.
Hameed’s continued presence on the Supreme Court bench contravenes the Islamic Shariah and the norms of justice, the organization said.
“Given the serious nature of the allegations against Ali Hameed, that the judge continues to hold trial contravenes norms of justice, conduct of judges, and established norms by which free and democratic societies deal with cases of this nature,” the statement read.
Suood was on a watchdog Judicial Service Commission’s sub committee to investigate the matter. The Supreme Court had suspended Suood from practicing law in January for alleged contempt of court.
Meanwhile, lawyer and former Minister of Youth and Sports Hassan Latheef condemned the Home Ministry’s decision as a violation of the right to freedom of association.
“I believe this is an attempt to stop us lawyers from advocating in our defense,” he added.