UK-based lawyers to aid Nasheed defence in “unprecedented” legal move

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has confirmed two senior UK-based legal experts – one a specialist in Shariah Law – will be joining the defence team of former President Mohamed Nasheed ahead of his trial over the detention of a senior judicial figure whilst in power.

Party Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor confirmed that Sir Ivan Lawrence QC and Barrister Ali Mohammed Azhar will be working with local lawyers Hisaan Hussain and Hassan Latheef in some capacity to represent Nasheed.

One practising lawyer in the country contacted by Minivan News today said the appointment of two foreign legal experts in a domestic trial was an “unprecedented” development within the country’s legal history, but could not clarify further at the time of press.

The former president, who will next month begin defending himself in court against charges that he illegally detained Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed back in January 2012, has rejoined the MDP in a campaign around the country’s southern atolls in a bid to regain the presidency following February’s controversial transfer of power.

However, while free to campaign in the country, judicial authorities have said that Nasheed remains barred from leaving the country without court approval ahead of the next hearing of his trial in November.

Nasheed was himself presented to court on Tuesday (October 9) after being arrested a day earlier by police.

Speaking in court, he maintained that the detention of Judge Abdulla was justified on grounds of national security following the reported failure of other institutions to hold the judge accountable.

The former president also alleged that the charges are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent him from contesting presidential elections in 2013.

Nasheed, who is now restricted from travelling abroad without judicial approval , is required to return to court on November 4, giving his legal team 25 days to study evidence against him and prepare a defence. A period of 30 days had been originally been requested by lawyers, but was rejected by a three-member judging panel.

The state presented more than 30 pieces of evidence it claimed proved that Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was detained unlawfully, including the account of the judge himself.  It will also use audio and video of the judge’s detention, as well as speeches given by Nasheed.

Assisting with the former president’s defence will be veteran criminal lawyer Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, whose biography notes experience working within UK and international institutions like the Divisional Court, the Court of Appeal, the House of Lords and a mass murder war crimes trial at The Hague.

Nasheed will also be assisted by Barrister Ali Mohammed Azhar, who is also said to have worked extensively at high level UK institutions like the Court of Appeal and House of Lords, specialising in areas such as international and human rights law.

Azhar, who visited the Maldives back in 2005 along with Ivan Lawrence as part of a fact finding mission dealing with alleged human rights abuses, is also an expert in Sharia Law, according to his own biography.

Minivan News was awaiting a statement from the MDP about the appointments international legal assistance at the time of press.

Nasheed has meanwhile returned to campaigning with the MDP as part of a ‘journey of pledges’ that has seen the party touring a number of islands in the south of the country.

Despite having obtained permission to return to campaigning in the southern atolls following his arrest this week, the Department of Judicial Administration confirmed today that Nasheed was restricted from travelling abroad without court approval.

Department of Judicial Administration Spokesperson Latheefa Qasim that Nasheed’s passport had been withheld by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court following the issue of a warrant.

When asked about possible restrictions on the role foreign legal experts could have in domestic court hearings, Qasim said she would be unable to comment at present, having not been aware of the reported appointment of UK-based lawyers to Nasheed’s defence team.