Majority of criminal trials cancelled for third day

Majority of criminal trials have been cancelled for the third day over legal issues caused by an ongoing leadership vacuum at the independent Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office.

State prosecutors ended a weeklong strike on Tuesday and started attending trials following a Supreme Court ruling, but the majority of hearings were cancelled for the third day today as courts remain unclear on how to interpret the ruling.

The strike came in response to acting PG Hussein Shameem’s resignation and brought the criminal justice system to a halt.

Prosecutors said they were in a “legal void” and expressed concern over lack of accountability in the absence of a PG or deputy PG.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday ordered prosecutors to resume work “without any further excuse” claiming there was no legal basis for them evading responsibilities handed over by the prosecutor general or his deputy.

Subsequently, the Criminal Court on Tuesday said it would only proceed with cases if prosecutors had a document signed by the leadership authorising them to represent the state in a specific case.

However, local media said the courts were in disarray with only some judges following the policy.

In response, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussein sent a letter to Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed stating that cases should proceed if prosecutors were authorised by the senior most official at the PG office to represent the state.

Faiz reminded the Criminal Court that its ruling said the criminal justice system must not come to a halt.

The Supreme Court in its ruling said the country was in a “state of necessity” where extra legal actions by the government could be deemed lawful.

However, critics have said the state of necessity argument could only be valid if either the executive and legislative branches were in a situation where they cannot carry out their constitutional duty and approve a new PG.

Former PG Ahmed Muizz resigned in November 2013 shortly before a vote of no confidence at the People’s Majlis.

The People’s Majlis rejected President Abdulla Yameen’s first choice – his nephew Maumoon Hameed – for the job in March.

Deputy PG Shameem headed the office for five months in the absence of a PG, but resigned on May 6 citing the Criminal Court’s “obstruction” of criminal justice.

In his resignation statement, 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.

“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.

Shameem called on the state to approve a new candidate immediately, but Yameen has said he will only submit a new nominee to the newly elected parliament, which is set to convene on May 28. The ruling coalition enjoys a healthy majority in the new Majlis.

The current Majlis is in recess, but Speaker Abdulla Shahid has said an extraordinary session could be scheduled on the request of one-third of sitting MPs.

Local media has today revealed that seven candidates have applied for the vacant PG’s position. The third call for applications were closed today at 3pm.

Former attorney general and President of the Bar Association Husnu Suood said the apex court’s ruling might allow the status quo to continue indefinitely.

“I am saddened the Supreme Court did not allocate a time period in which the president and parliament must appoint a new PG. The way to uphold the constitution, the real solution to this problem, is to appoint a new PG as soon as possible,” he said.


Police Integrity Commission Chair resigns citing institution’s failure to hold police accountable

Former head of the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) Shahinda Ismail has resigned from the Commission claiming “major difference of opinion” with other the reasons behind her decision to resign from the institution yesterday.

“For me, the commission is not heading in the right direction – when you look at the commission’s work of late, I didn’t feel it was working towards objectives stated in police act,” she said.

Article 19 of the Police Act charges the PIC with promoting police officer’s respect for law, to independently investigate any unlawful activities, and to enhance trust and confidence in the police.

“I don’t believe that sitting there would enable me to do anything good for this country,” said Shahindha, who questioned whether any of the country’s public institutions were helping the people of the Maldives.

“If police are allowed to act like this – there will never be an end to this,” said Shahindha who expressed her concern that repeated excuses made on behalf of the police will not bring an end to brutality or the abuse of power.

“What I’ve seen in the actions of institutions is that they have been giving a lot of space for the police to act with impunity.”

Shahindha’s resignation comes just days after the release of the second of three reports looking into incidents of police misconduct that surrounded February’s transfer of presidential power.

The recent report into instances of police brutality during the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) February 8 protests, included an addendum with Shahindha’s opinions after she was unable to agree with the conclusions of her fellow commission members.

The main point of disagreement emerged over the legality of the police’s breaking up of the protests, and the extent to which senior officers should be culpable for the ensuing violence.

Shahindha stated in the report that she saw acts of police on February 8 to have been against the law, and that she observed no valid reason for police to have broken up the MDP demonstrations in the manner they did.

She also stated that the Assistant Commissioner of Police Abdulla Fairoosh and then Acting Head of Police Specialist Operations Department Ahmed Shameem must be held responsible for not having carried out the responsibilities of their posts in a sufficient manner.

The remainder of the committee said that the police acted within the contours of the law and that acts of brutality were the sole responsibility of individual officers.

Shahindha stated that she could not understand the reason for these differences of opinion as she had no access to any information that was not seen by the other commission members.

“I really wouldn’t accuse anyone of any political activity or anything specific. People just don’t see things the way I see them,” she said.

The PIC’s Vice Chair Abdullah Waheed was unavailable for comment when called today. Waheed requested to be called back but was not responding to further calls at the time of press.

Waheed told Haveeru today that he believed Shahindha’s resignation was due to her husband’s departure to study in the UK.

“Since middle of July, Shahindha kept saying that she would leave the Commission as her husband was leaving abroad… So her statement to the media that she was resigning due to divergence of opinion comes as a real surprise,” said Waheed.

Shahindha’s husband, Hussein Shameem, confirmed to Minivan News that he had left his post as Deputy Prosecutor General in order to pursue further education in the United Kingdom.

Asked about the timing of her resignation, Shahindha said that she felt a strong responsibility to continue on the commission, despite ongoing problems.

“I waited mainly because this is the most important event ever involving the police. I was there when the incident took place. I played a vital role – I believed it was my responsibility,” she said.

Although she acknowledged problems with the commission before February 7, Shahindha described a more stark change in the atmosphere since February.

“The commission is in dire need of capacity building and I hope the state can provide necessary funding in order for the PIC to bring out sound conclusions. It needs capacity building in terms of its investigations,” she said.

Shahindha had previously expressed her scepticism over the ability of the PIC to handle the magnitude of the investigations following the release of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report.

Despite finding that February’s transfer of power fell within constitutional limits, the report did acknowledge acts of police brutality and called for “assistance and encouragement” of institutions such as the PIC in order to increase “effectiveness and general performance.”

Shahindha stated that the Home Minister, who announced that the PIC would be tasked with investigating the abuses, was empowered to ignore PIC recommendations and had already done so.

Commenting on the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed this morning, Shahindha questioned the prioritisation of his case when cases of murder, rape and child abuse awaited trial.

Former Chairman of the MDP Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail has raised the same issue in a recent blog post, pointing out that there are currently over 2000 cases awaiting prosecution.


PG’s office sends corruption cases back to Auditor General’s office

The Prosecutor General’s office has returned cases against former government ministers forwarded several weeks ago by former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem.

Naeem claimed that former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, together with many of his cabinet ministers and several members of the current government, had failed to declare details of their financial assets as required by the Constitution.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem said the cases was returned to the Auditor General’s Office “because they were not investigated sufficiently.”

Shameem said they should have been “properly investigated” by the Auditor General’s Office before being sent to the PG’s Office.

“People who were named in this report were not asked to submit their forms,” Shameem said. “[In addition] they were not informed about the criminal charges. It is unfair they had to hear about it from the media.”

He said the PG’s Office believed “they should be given an opportunity” to declare their assets and to further investigate the claims.

He added that the cases have not been dropped by his office, and “if they are sent back, we will proceed.”

Assistant Executive Director and interim head of the Auditor General’s office Mohamed Hussein said he could not give any information about the case.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair said the former Auditor General “did not make up this case on his own or without collecting information. He would have sent these cases to the PG after working with a team.”

Zuhair said parliament’s no-confidence decision on Naeem did not mean that the whole Audit office was corrupt.