State prosecutors halt all criminal trials

State prosecutors at the Prosecutor General’s Office have refused to attend hearings in the absence of a Prosecutor General (PG) and a deputy PG.

The office’s leadership is currently vacant with former PG Ahmed Muizz’s resignation in November 2013 and deputy PG Hussein Shameem’s resignation yesterday. Shameem said he was unable to carry out his duties due to the Criminal Court’s “obstruction” of criminal justice.

Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed told local media today the court will continue with criminal trials even in the absence of a PG or Deputy PG unless the Supreme Court indicates otherwise. Mohamed had previously halted all criminal proceedings for three weeks in January citing state failure to appoint a PG within the 30 days,

In response, PG office Spokesperson and lawyer Hussain Nashid told Minivan News state prosecutors were now in a “legal void,” and could not attend court.

“We have sent a letter to all courts where cases were scheduled, informing them we refuse to attend court, due to the legal void we are currently facing in the absence of a PG or a Deputy PG to lead us. We have not yet decided what action we will take in the future, but the general consensus is to wait till a relevant authority decides on the matter,” he said.

Shameem’s resignation and the state prosecutors’ refusal to attend court brings the criminal justice system to a halt.

Extraordinary session

Shameem has called on President Abdulla Yameen to submit a new PG nominee and the 17th People’s Majlis – currently in recess and rapidly nearing the end of its five year term – to approve a candidate immediately. The newly elected 18th People’s Majlis is to take the oath of office in late May.

Chair of the Independent Institutions Oversight Committee Ahmed Sameer has called on the current Majlis to find “a permanent solution” rather than wait on a Supreme Court ruling.

“The solution is to hold another meeting before May 28 and select a PG. I call on the relevant bodies to do so,” he told local media.

But Speaker Abdulla Shahid told Minivan News the Majlis cannot approve a new PG unless Yameen submits a new nominee. The president’s first nominee – his nephew Maumoon Hameed – narrowly failed to garner enough votes in March.

“How can the parliament sit to decide on the matter when there aren’t any submitted nominees?” he said.

President Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali was not responding to calls at the time of press.

Shahid also added that he is not authorized to call an extraordinary session unless the President declares a state of emergency or one-third of the MPs request an extraordinary session.

“If a minimum of 26 members sign a motion asking for a special meeting to be held to decide on a matter in the parliament agenda, then it can be done. The government coalition has over 26 parliament members, so they will be able to do this if they so wish,” he said.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan said the governing coalition has not held any discussion on the matter as many MPs belonging to the coalition government are out of capital city Malé.

“This matter had not risen back when the last meeting of the parliament was held. At the time, there was no indication that the Deputy PG would resign. So we haven’t really discussed the matter yet. I believe that we might be having an internal meeting relevant to the matter tonight,” he said.

Obstruction of justice

In his resignation statement yesterday, Shameem highlighted 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 Criminal Court and PG office have been at loggerheads since January, with the court agreeing to proceed with criminal cases only after two Supreme Court orders in three weeks. However, the court formulated new procedures to delay and impede the PG office’s ability to submit criminal cases, Shameem has previously said.

“These issues obstruct the proper functioning of the criminal justice system. I am deeply saddened to note the extreme delay on the part of those who have the power to address these issues,” he said yesterday.

MP Sameer contended Shameem cannot resign in the absence of a PG. It is the PG who appoints a deputy and hence the deputy cannot resign if there is no PG, he argued.

“Surely, the President cannot accept this resignation. That is something that can be done by a Prosecutor General. There is no one at the moment to accept the Deputy PG’s resignation. However, if Shameem is not getting the necessary cooperation and is unable to fulfill his duties, then he can stop serving for the time being. I do not see any other possibilities in this matter,” Sameer told Haveeru.

But lawyers have told Minivan News no person can be “forced” to remain in any particular position.

“The Deputy PG can most definitely resign. A person cannot be forced to stay in a position based on the possible outcomes of a resignation. If the PG can resign, then the Deputy PG can resign too. If the law does not define a course of action in the instance that the country is lacking a PG and a Deputy, it is the lawmakers who must come up with a solution. It cannot be reason to force someone to remain in a position against his will,” lawyer Mohamed Shafaz Wajeeh said.

Another lawyer – on condition of anonymity – echoed Wajeeh’s views, adding “in the instance that we did not have a PG, it was the Deputy who was answerable to the oversight committee in parliament. Under that same logic, he can also resign if the PG can. The law must be interpreted in such a way that it does not allow for anyone to be in any position under force.”


Criminal Court refusing to accept serious cases, Deputy PG tells MPs

Deputy Prosecutor General (PG) Hussain Shameem has told MPs on parliament’s independent institutions committee that serious cases are pending at the PG office due to Criminal Court’s procedure on accepting cases.

Serious cases of corruption, drugs and child sex abuse had not reached trial because the Criminal Court was refusing to accept the cases, he said.

The court was informing the PG office that cases should be filed at the magistrate court on the home island of the accused, Shameem explained, noting that magistrate courts could not hear drug cases and that in most cases the suspect was residing in the capital.

The Criminal Court in December last year suspended all ongoing cases and decided not to accept new cases filed by the PG office, claiming the court cannot proceed with trials in the absence of a PG.

In February this year, the Criminal Court started accepting new cases after the Supreme Court issued a second ruling ordering the court to uphold the rule of law.


Deputy PG slams Criminal Court over new regulations

The Criminal Court has usurped a Supreme Court power in issuing new regulations outlining procedures to be followed in submitting cases, Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem has said.

The Criminal Court today rejected 60 cases submitted by the Prosecutor General’s (PG) office, claiming cases did not fulfill criteria specified in regulations publicised on February 19.

However, Shameem said the Judicature Act only allows the Criminal Court to compile regulations administering internal affairs, and does not allow the court the authority to issue regulations governing external affairs.

It is the Judicial Council or the Supreme Court which has the power to issue such regulations, he said.

The Supreme Court abolished the Judicial Council in March 2011 claiming the council is unconstitutional and assumed its powers, including the power to compile regulations and policies on administration of the courts.

The Criminal Court’s regulations issued unilaterally also allows other courts to compile their own regulations, which may result in different procedures for each court and affects the right to equality guaranteed by the constitution, Shameem said.

“For example, the Criminal Court says cases involving serious crimes must be submitted within 45 days. What if the Maakurathu island court decides cases must be submitted in 15 or 60 days? This impacts the investigation process and means prosecutors must change procedures depending on which court they want to submit cases to,” he said.

The Criminal Court and PG’s office have been at odds over criminal proceedings following former PG Ahmed Muiz’s resignation in November.

The court suspended all ongoing cases and refused to accept new cases citing parliament’s failure to appoint a new PG within 30 days of Muizz’s resignation.

The Supreme Court, on Shameem’s request, ordered the Criminal Court to restart trials, but the court only began hearings in ongoing cases and refused to accept new cases.

The Supreme Court on February 18 released a new ruling ordering the court to continue with ongoing cases and accept new cases to ensure the criminal justice system continues.

Shameem said the Criminal Court’s new regulations had been applied retroactively.

“There are a 153 people in pre-trial detention. There are many others who are unable to find employment due to ongoing criminal cases. The Criminal Court’s actions are affecting a public service,” he said.

The PG office has a backlog of over 500 cases ready for prosecution, he added.

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives last week called on the People’s Majlis to expedite the appointment of a new PG, stating the delay violates the citizen’s right to justice.

In December, President Abdulla Yameen nominated his nephew Maumoon Hameed for the position. Parliament broke for recess at the end of the year, however, after having forwarded the nominee for vetting by the independent institutions committee.


Chief Justice calls on Majlis to hasten PG appointment

Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz has called on the parliament to hasten the appointment of a new prosecutor general (PG).

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of the Drug Court’s development structure, the Chief Justice noted that parliament had been conducting extra sittings to conclude unfinished work, and that it was possible to appoint a PG during one of those sittings.

The Criminal Court decided in January that it would not accept any cases submitted by the PG’s Office, and that it would halt all existing cases as the PG position had been vacant for over 30 days.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem today said that he was yet to receive any response from the apex court regarding an appeal for assistance in the matter, made over two weeks ago.

Faiz noted that each day that passed without a PG was a day on which he felt concern. He expressed regret that one half of the criminal justice procedure was now ineffective, and that the constitutional time frame to appoint the new PG had passed.

Furthermore, Faiz said that if the constitution mandates to do something during a specific duration of time it has to be done in that period. The constitution states that if the position of PG becomes vacant a new person must be appointed in 30 days.

Faiz presided over Supreme Court proceedings during the annulment of the 2013 presidential election first round – though the chief justice himself opposed the ruling. The delays resulting from the verdict’s guidelines subsequently led to the extension of the legally mandated presidential term of office, prompting fears of a constitutional crisis.

Speaking to Minivan News today Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem said that the Supreme Court had still not responded to a letter sent by his office complaining about the Criminal Court’s decision.

‘’We called the Supreme Court today also to ask about the response but we were unable to get a word from the Supreme Court regarding the issue,’’ he said.

He stated that it was not for him to make the Supreme Court and parliament accountable and there was nothing he could do about it.

‘’Next week we will decide what to do,’’ he added.

On November 25, former PG Ahmed Muiz submitted his resignation just as parliament was set to debate a no-confidence motion against him.

Last month, Shameem said that the laws did not prohibit the deputy from taking over the responsibilities of the PG should a new person not be appointed within the required 30 days.

He also expressed concern that there were people held in pre-trial detention who were to be kept there until their trials were concluded.

“So what do they do now, it would not be fair to keep them in there until the parliament comes back to work from recess after three months and appoints a new PG,’’ Shameem said.

On December 10, President Abdulla Yameen proposed his nephew Maumoon Hameed for the post, submitting the name to parliament for MPs’ approval.

The issue was sent to the Majlis independent commissions committee, with the group subsequently deciding to seek public opinion before sending Hameed’s name to the parliament floor. The Majlis is now on recess and will not re-commence work until March.

On January 9, the Supreme Court had ordered the Criminal Court to continue pending trials, saying that the criminal justice system must proceed in order to maintain constitutional rule.

The Criminal Court announced it would not reconsider its decision to stop accepting cases, but decided to continue with cases that were already filed at the court.