Participation of UK legal experts in Nasheed trial a “unique challenge”

A Maldivian legal expert has described the use of foreign legal experts in the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed as “unique”, pointing out that the Maldivian legal system makes it particularly difficult for such experts to contribute to proceedings.

Mohamed Shafaz Wajeeh, a practising layer in Male’ and former Director of the Legal Director at the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) said that while foreign advisers to corporate clients was fairly common, foreign experts for a specific criminal case was not.

“From a common law/international standards perspective, I believe foreign legal involvement is very much prevalent, especially if you consider the number of foreign legal experts who would be advising corporate clients operating in the Maldives in resorts, major telecom providers etc,” Wajeeh told Minivan News.

“However, the Nasheed trial is unique in that common law/international standards perspective expertise is being brought in for stated involvement in a specific criminal court case, as part of the defense team, not merely on a corporate/commercial transactional matter in an advisory capacity,” he added.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) revealed earlier this month that it was to add the expertise of two UK-based lawyers to the legal team working on the Judge Abdulla Mohamed detention case.

Sir Ivan Lawrence QC and Barrister Ali Mohammed Azhar were brought in to work alongside Hisaan Hussain, Abdulla Shair. On Thursday, it was announced that Kirsty Brimelow QC – a human rights expert – would also join Nasheed’s defense team.

Azhar is an expert in Shariah law – the Maldives legal system encompasses a combination of common and Shariah legal practices.

“It is not uncommon for foreign legal experts to be involved in transactional matters in an advisory capacities, but virtually never as Shari’ah experts (in recent history),” said Wajeeh. “What’s unique is for foreign legal experts to be involved in a criminal case – in the defence team, and especially in a court case.”

Lawrence, Azhar and Brimelow will work alongside Hisaan Hussain, Abdulla Shair, Hassan Latheef and Ahmed Adbulla Afeef – although the latter two have been barred from appearing in court on technical grounds.

Afeef will not be allowed to attend the hearings in an official capacity after failing to sign the Supreme Court’s new “Regulation on Lawyers practicing law in the courts of Maldives”.

Wajeeh cited this particular regulation as “disturbing” and “dangerous” – further sign, he feels, of the need for major reform of the judicial arm of the state which he described as undeveloped and “primeval”.

Latheef cannot appear as he has been listed by the Prosecutor General (PG) as a witness to the detention of the Judge. Latheef described the inclusion of his name on this list as unnecessary and “irrelevant” as the judge’s detention was not in question.

In the press release announcing Brimelow’s inclusion in the case, appearing on Nasheed’s website, it was acknowledged that legal restrictions would also prevent any of the UK experts appearing in court.

“I imagine they would be severely restricted – if not intentionally, then due to the structure of the legal system,” said Wajeeh.

“Foreign legal experts can’t attend as lawyers, they can’t attend in Nasheed’s stead either (only lawyers may represent individuals in criminal cases),” he added.

“I’m not really sure if they can sit at the bench even. My understanding would be, if the foreign legal experts are to be allowed into the Court room at all, they would have to go in and sit in the public gallery,” he continued.

Latheef explained that Ms Brimelow was the only member of the legal team scheduled to be present in Male’ for the trial, and that the team would be applying for a permit from the Attorney General to allow her to appear in court.

“This has been done once before,” explained Latheed, “although the lawyer involved was married to a Maldivian.”

Wajeeh also noted that there were certain procedural factors which would make it difficult for UK experts to fully participate in the case, in particular the use of Dhivehi in the courts without English translation services being readily available.

“The foreign lawyers would of course be free to offer their views and opinions to the appointed defence team on drafting submissions and responses in defence of Nasheed, given the documents are efficiently translated for their use,” explained Wajeeh.

“This would mean they could play a minimal role in the formal hearing, although could potentially play a crucial role in how the defence argument takes shape.”

Nasheed’s trial continues tomorrow at 4:00pm at the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, which is has been temporarily relocated to Male’ for the purpose of the case.


Nasheed adds third British legal expert to defense team

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has further bolstered his legal team by accepting the services of Kirsty Brimelow QC ahead of the continuation of the Judge Abdulla Mohamed detention case on Sunday.

Brimelow will join fellow UK-based legal experts Sir Ivan Lawrence QC and Barrister Ali Mohammed Azhar on  Nasheed’s defence team.

A statement appearing on Nasheed’s website describes Brimelow as a criminal law specialist with international experience who is “particularly sought after in cases with a human rights law element”.

Brimelow was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2011 and has, among a number of high profile cases, acted as Legal Adviser to the Constitution Commission of Fiji. She is vice-chairwoman of the Bar Human Rights Committee and appears regularly on British television and radio.

Earlier this month, the Department of Judicial Administration informed local media that two of Nasheed’s lawyers, Hassan Latheef and Ahmed Adbulla Afeef had been barred from the trial.

Latheef had been barred from the trial as the state had called him as a witness, while Afeef was was barred as he had not signed new behavioural regulations for lawyers recently issued by the Supreme Court, explained department spokesperson Latheefa Gasim.

This leaves just two of Nasheed’s lawyers able to appear in court – former President’s Office Legal Advisor Hisaan Hussain and criminal defence lawyer Abdulla Shair.

Nasheed has stated repeatedly that he feels the outcome of the trial to be pre-ordained, with his conviction designed specifically to prevent him running in next year’s presidential elections.

“On Sunday I will face an extraordinary court, established especially to hear my case,” Nasheed wrote in Britain’s Financial Times this week.

“I am to be tried for abuse of power, in particular for the arrest of a corrupt judge, who was an ally of Mr Gayoom. My conviction is a foregone conclusion. Mohamed Waheed, my former vice-president, may decide to pardon me, but only in a way that ensures I remain barred from seeking office next year,” he wrote.

The issue of Nasheed’s trial was raised in the UK House of Commons this week by Conservative MP Karen Lumley, who asked Alistair Burt – Under Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, about the fairness of Nasheed’s trial.

“We have sought and received assurances from President Waheed of the Maldives that any trial of former President Nasheed will be fair and free from political influence,” replies Burt.

“No trial date has been set. The next court hearing is on November 4 and we expect international observers to be present,” he added.

In response to Lumley’s question regarding the effect of the trial on a sustainable political outcome in the country, Burt said the following:

“The trial process is, of course, a matter for the Maldives, but there is international concern that if it results in the former President being prevented from leading his party into the elections next year, it will be seen as though the process was designed for exactly that object.”

“We urge political stability under all circumstances in the Maldives, and that will no doubt be enhanced if the former President is allowed to lead his party and take part in those elections,” continued the Under Secretary.

The statement on Nasheed’s website noted that the Attorney General’s regulations prevented any of the new additions to his legal team appearing alongside him in court.

“Article 2 (a) of the regulation states ‘a person has to either be a Maldivian citizen or be married to a Maldivian citizen and reside for most part in the Maldives’ in order to practice law in the Maldives,” read the statement.

“This restriction is a hindrance to clients who wish to have foreign legal professionals represent them in courts of the Maldives,” it said.

Nasheed’s legal team raised several procedural issues at the cases first hearing on October 9, all of which were dismissed by the court.

After challenging this ruling in the High Court, and calling for an injunction to halt the trial until the matter was resolved, it was announced last week that the High Court would hold a hearing on the matter on the morning of November 4 – the same day Nasheed’s trial in the Hulhumale’ Magistrate’s Court recommences.

“The party believes that the result of conducting both hearings on the same day will be the defence attorneys losing the opportunity to prepare for the original case at the Hulhumale Magistrate Court’,” a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) statement read.

The party held a march around the capital island Male’ on Tuesday calling for judicial reform. Over 500 protesters marched around Male’ with banners and placards displaying messages arguing the importance of judicial independence and of holding the judiciary accountable.

Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was originally taken into custody in January after blocking the Judicial Services Commission’s (JSC) proceedings into his alleged misconduct. A police mutiny and unrest in the capital led to Nasheed’s resignation three weeks later.


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.


Police issued with arrest warrant for Nasheed

Additional reporting by Mariyath Mohamed

The Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court has issued an order to the Maldives Police Service for the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed, asking them to bring him to a court hearing at 4:00PM on Tuesday.

Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed that the new warrant gives the police powers of arrest after a previous warrant allowed them only to present the defendant in court with his consent.

The order has been issued in relation to the case of Nasheed’s arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed last year.

Punishment for a person guilty of this offence is imprisonment or banishment for three years, or a fine of MVR 2,000 (US$129.70).

Nasheed was initially summoned to the court on October 1. After he failed to attend this hearing, instead heading to the southern atolls to campaign, the court ordered police to present him at the next hearing, scheduled for Sunday October 7.

Nasheed then sent a request to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court on Friday asking for the hearing to be rescheduled. The court rejected the appeal, saying that campaigning was not listed as a reason for absence in the legislation regarding summons.

He had planned to return to Male’ on Saturday October 13. No spokesman from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was able to respond to calls at the time of press.

Earlier today, the high court rejected former Nasheed’s appeal challenging the legitimacy of Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, and its summoning of him in connection with this case.

Former MP and President of MDP Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail has also cast doubt on the validity of the Hulhumale court’s rulings.

“There is more than ample grounds to contend that the summons was issued by an unlawful panel of judges, sitting in an unlawful court, which had already issued an unconstitutional restraining order which was ultra vires,” said Ibra on his personal blog.

Last week, the MDP vowed to ignore all rulings made by the courts until judicial reforms were introduced.

Nasheed did not return to Male’ for today’s hearing, following which the court issued the current arrest warrant.

The high court has ruled that the order to arrest Nasheed and present him in court on Tuesday cannot be appealed.

An arrest warrant was issued for Nasheed – for unspecified charges –  shortly after his resignation in February although he was never detained by police.

Nasheed was arrested more than twenty times under the regime of 30-year president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Since leaving the President’s Office, Nasheed has maintained that figures loyal to the former regime were behind his ousting, although the Commission of National Inquiry’s (CNI) final report in August found otherwise.

Nasheed is also currently facing civil court proceedings related to the defamation – labelling as traitors – the current minister of defence and police commissioner, both installed immediately following his resignation.


Tholath and Ziyad’s hearing cancelled as judge takes sick leave

Today’s scheduled hearing of former Minister of Defence Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaan and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Colonel Mohamed Ziyad has been postponed after one of the three judges on the panel took sick leave, local media has reported.

Thalhath and Ziyad join other MNDF officers Moosa Ali Jaleel and Ibrahim Mohamed Didi (retired) as well as former President Mohamed Nasheed in being charged with Article 81 of the penal code.

Haveeru reported that no new date has been set.

If found guilty, Nasheed and Tholhath will face a jail sentence or banishment for three years or a Rf 3000 fine (US$193.5).

Nasheed’s hearing was scheduled for Monday was cancelled after he failed to present himself in court and instead left Male’ to campaign in the southern atolls, in defiance of a travel ban.

The department of judicial administration yesterday confirmed that police were to produce Nasheed at a rescheduled hearing at 4:00pm on Sunday, October 7.

Nasheed’s legal team last week voiced concerns that the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court had been assembled illegally, with judges “handpicked” in contravention of the Judicature Act.


Court asks police to present Nasheed at rescheduled trial

Former President Mohamed Nasheed today began touring the country’s Southern Atolls less than 24 hours after boycotting a trial against him in protest at what he and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) allege is a lack of independence within the nation’s judiciary.

However the Department of Judicial Administration today confirmed that police were “to produce” Nasheed at a rescheduled hearing at 4:00pm on Sunday, October 7.

Department Director Ahmed Maajid told Minivan News that despite the order, the former president was “not to be detained”.

With the campaigning beginning today in Gaafu Alif Atoll, the MDP has claimed that uncertainty remains over whether Nasheed would be able to complete the tour without being taken into custody by authorities.

Despite the Department of Judicial Administration’s order, no official communication from authorities has so far been received by the MDP following Nasheed’s decision to boycott his trial, contravening a court order requiring him to remain in the capital.

The court hearing was to be the first in the case concerning Nasheed’s detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, while in office.

The government meanwhile has told the Agence France Presse (AFP) news service that the former president could be taken into custody should he fail to comply with a second summons for his trial over the detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

“The court will issue him another summons,” President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told the AFP.  “After the second summons, if he does not comply, the standard procedure is they (the court) will instruct the police to bring him in.”

Both Masood and President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza were not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed told Minivan News that the existing protocols relating to a defendant failing to attend their trial were a matter of judicial process that were applied to any defendant, regardless of their position.

“Nasheed or anyone else is subjected to the same set of rules governing trials when they face criminal charges,” he claimed. “The state would not commit any act which would amount to contempt of court whenever it is asked to assist in bringing a suspect to court who wilfully avoids an appearance or absconds a trial.”

Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz was also not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

MDP Spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, who is travelling with Nasheed as part of the party’s 14 day tour, said that no official correspondence had been received from authorities at present concerning Nasheed’s decision not to attend yesterday’s trial.

“[The authorities] have done everything they can to try and stop this tour, though we have just arrived and the party is in good spirits,” he said.

When questioned if the MDP was confident Nasheed would be able to complete the tour following his decision to defy court rulings against him, Ghafoor said it remained too early to tell at present.

“Obviously we hope he will be able to complete the tour, but they might come and get him at some point. We will have to wait and see,” he said. “We have just arrived at our first destination on Kolamaafushi, the island is very yellow (the official colour of the MDP), it is quite a thing to see.”

Another source travelling with Nasheed as part of the tour, who asked not to be identified, told Minivan News that there had been no communications so far between the former president’s representatives, the government or the courts.

The source claimed that from their own understanding, Nasheed was being treated under standard protocols employed against any Maldivian national failing to attend a criminal trial, with a second summons expected to be issued by the courts at a later date.  A failure to comply with this second order would likely see police ordered to bring the former president to court, they added.

Boycott decision

Nasheed’s departure to participate in his party’s ‘Vaudhuge Dhathuru’ (Journey of Pledges) campaign in the country’s southern atolls reflected a wider MDP decision to no longer follow any orders given by the courts of the Maldives until changes proposed by international entities were brought to the Maldivian judicial system.

Nasheed’s controversial decision to detain Judge Abdulla in January 2012 followed the judge’s repeated release of former Justice Minister – and current Home Minister – Dr Mohamed Jameel, in December 2011, whom the government had accused of inciting religious hatred over the publication of his party’s pamphlet, ‘President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians’.

The former government government further accused the judge of political bias, obstructing police, stalling cases, having links with organised crime and “taking the entire criminal justice system in his fist” so as to protect key figures of the former dictatorship from human rights and corruption cases, among other allegations.

Nasheed justified the judge’s arrest based on his constitutional mandate to protect the constitution. Judge Abdulla had in September 2011 received an injunction from the Civil Court preventing his investigation by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the watchdog tasked with overseeing the judiciary, which complied with the ruling.

Former President’s Member on the JSC, Aishath Velezinee, has written a book extensively documenting the watchdog body’s undermining of judicial independence, and complicity in sabotaging the separation of powers.

Over 80 pages, backed up with documents, evidence and letters, The Failed Silent Coup: in Defeat They Reached for the Gun recounts the experience of the outspoken whistleblower as she attempted to stop the commission from re-appointing unqualified and ethically-suspect judges loyal to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, after it dismissed the professional and ethical standards demanded by Article 285 of the constitution as “symbolic”.