The Supreme Court has instructed the High Court to halt its hearings on an appeal lodged by former President Mohamed Nasheed, challenging a ruling by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court on procedural points raised by the former President’s legal team.
The High Court on Sunday granted an injunction or stay suspending the former President’s trial at the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, pending a ruling on the procedural points raised by Nasheed’s legal team, which included determining the legitimacy of the magistrate court.
Nasheed’s lawyers were informed by the High Court this morning that a hearing scheduled for 10:15am was cancelled because a judge was “on sick leave.”
An official from the High Court initially told Minivan News that the hearing was cancelled because the judge was on sick leave. However, asked which of the three judges on the panel had taken ill, the official said she would have to clarify.
The High Court official said later that the case had been suspended based on instructions from the Supreme Court. A letter from the Supreme Court was received in the late afternoon yesterday, she said.
“The judge took the sick leave [this morning] after the Supreme Court ordered the case to be halted. It wasn’t cancelled because he took ill,” she claimed.
Nasheed’s lawyers were at first unaware of the Supreme Court order.
Abdulla Shair from Nasheed’s legal team said that the High Court has since informed the lawyers of the Supreme Court’s instruction to halt the case.
However, it was unclear whether the Supreme Court’s order was a writ of prohibition or “just a letter telling the High Court to halt the case until the Supreme Court ruled on the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court,” he explained.
The High Court official said that the instructions were made in a letter from the apex court.
A media official from the Supreme Court was not responding at the time of press.
However, the official told local media today that the High Court was asked to halt hearings on the appeal because one of the procedural points involved the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ court, which the Supreme Court had been asked by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to determine.
The Supreme Court also informed the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court on Wednesday to resume proceedings on other ongoing cases, pending a ruling on the magistrate’s court legitimacy.
Following the High Court’s injunction, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court announced that it had suspended all ongoing cases in light of the questions raised over its legal status.
In an announcement a day after the High Court granted the injunction, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court said it has suspended proceedings on cases involving marriage, divorce, guardianship, family matters, property lawsuits, civil cases, criminal cases involving extension of detention periods as well as other matters that could be affected by the questions raised over its legal status.
The Supreme Court media official told newspaper Haveeru today that the decision by the highest court of appeal would not affect the High Court injunction suspending the former President’s trial.
Former President Nasheed is facing criminal charges over the military’s controversial detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.
Speaking to press after the High Court hearing on Sunday, Nasheed’s lawyer Hisaan Hussain claimed that the state was unable to offer valid arguments to defend the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, which the former President’s legal team contends was formed in violation of the constitution and Judicature Act.
At Sunday’s hearing of Nasheed’s appeal, the JSC revealed that it had filed a case at the Supreme Court to determine the legitimacy of the court.
Local media reported on Monday that the Supreme Court ordered the Civil Court to send over all files and documents on a case submitted by a lawyer, Ismail Visham, over a year ago challenging the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.
The Supreme Court had issued a writ of mandamus ordering the lower court to suspend its hearings and had taken over the case. The apex court had however not conducted any hearings on the case.
Meanwhile, writing in his personal blog last month, Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed explained that a magistrate court could not legally be established at Hulhumale’.
The Judicature Act states that magistrate courts should be set up in inhabited islands aside from Male’ without a division of the trial courts (Criminal Court, Civil Court, Family Court and Juvenile Court).
According to appendix two of the constitution, Hulhumale’ is a district or ward of Male’ and not a separate inhabited island. The former magistrate court at Hulhumale’ – controversially set up by the JSC before the enactment of the Judicature Act in October 2010 – should therefore have been dissolved when the Judicature Act was ratified.
At Sunday’s hearing of Nasheed’s appeal, the three-judge panel heard arguments on the procedural issues from both the claimant and the state, represented by the Prosecutor General’s Office and Attorney General’s Office.
Adjourning the hearing, Judge Shuaib Hussain Zakariya had said that the judges would try to ensure that the next hearing would be the last before issuing a ruling.