Lawyers hold crisis meeting over new Supreme Court regulation

Top lawyers in the Maldives held a crisis meeting last night at the SHE Building to discuss the Supreme Court’s new “Regulation on Lawyers practicing law in the courts of Maldives” which demand that lawyers must to be registered to a court in order to be able to represent their clients in it.

Article 2.2 of the said regulation states: “Anyone who can represent in any court of law in the Maldives, shall be a person who has the license to practice law in the country, and shall also be registered accordingly as a lawyer in the given court to practice law.”

The regulation also restricts lawyers from openly criticising the discrepancies that take place within the courts.

The lawyers expressed concerns over the regulation citing that it would impose “difficulties for lawyers to represent their clients”.

The meeting was attended by senior lawyers of the country including the former Attorney General Abdulla Muiz, Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem and MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed, formed a sub-committee to work on behalf of the lawyers to amend the regulation.

Local news website Sun Online quoted an attendee as stating that the lawyers had identified a lot of difficulties with the new regulation.

“We decided to meet and discuss with the authorities regarding the regulations. This is something that all lawyers agreed was necessary,” he said.

One of the main concerns raised by the lawyers regarding the new regulations were that if they were to represent their clients in island magistrate courts, they would need to register in the given island magistrate court prior to appearing in the court.

Given the difficulty of transportation to islands, their concerns were that it could put in a further burden on lawyers to go to the island and register there.

With the new regulation, the Civil Court, the Criminal Court and the Juvenile Court have opened the opportunity for lawyers to register in the courts.

An MDP lawyer who took part in the discussion said the meeting was closed and would not reveal details of the discussion.

However, Minivan News understands that the lawyers are proposing to amend certain sections of the regulations, particularly the requirements that the lawyers register in island magistrate courts.

Speaking to Minivan News, Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitutional Assembly that drafted the current constitution of the Maldives, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, said he believed that the Supreme Court did not have the authority to make such a regulation.

He also said that Supreme Court cannot have a say on the procedures of other courts, which he believed was interfering with the jurisdiction of those courts, and that it was not a duty of the Supreme Court to decide the rules that lawyers have to follow.

“If you look into other democratic countries, the matters relating to the lawyers are administered by a bar association. At the moment we do not have a bar association, but I remember that it was the Attorney General (AG)’s office that has been issuing the license to practice law and maintaining a lawyer’s database. It should be the AG who makes such a regulation,” he said.

The Attorney General’s office is currently headed by Azima Shukoor, formerly lawyer to President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Regarding the article 2.2 of the regulation, Ismail stated that he believed that once a lawyer gets his license to practice law in the country, he should be able to practice it without further obstruction.

Ismail also criticised the stipulation which demands lawyers not openly criticise the courts, describing it as limiting the fundamental right of freedom of expression in the constitution. Only legislation from the parliament could do so, he said.

“What they are trying to do is to cover up the mouths that speak of the [court’s] discrepancies. They know that when a lawyer speaks about the problems in the court, people will believe them more than when a politician does,” he said.

“I have always warned that the Supreme Court is slowly trying to exceed its mandate by interfering with the powers of other institutions. This regulation is just another step of that process,” he said.

The regulation would at the end of the day cause difficulties for ordinary people in obtaining legal representation, he said, and particularly impact the ability of islanders to receive justice.

“We have a very limited number of lawyers, and most of them live the capital Male’. If a person living on an island wants the services of a lawyer for a case going on in his island magistrate court, what will he do if there are no lawyers registered in that magistrate court?” he questioned.

“At the end of the day it is going to be the ordinary people who will suffer from such a regulation,” he said.

Ismail has been a vocal critic on the discrepancies of the courts and was previously reprimanded by the Supreme Court for calling on the public to “rise up and sort out the judges”, at a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally in Kaafu Thulusdhoo on September last year.

He was later summoned to police for questioning after the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) requested the former Male’ MP be investigated.

When Minivan News contacted the Supreme Court, the officials refused to answer any questions, and demanded that any inquiries be send in an official letter. Once they received it, they would look into it, the court said.