Supreme Court orders Bar Association to change its name

The Maldives Bar Association (MBA) has been given 14 days to change its name, after the Supreme Court deemed the title inappropriate for a private organisation.

“The word ‘bar’ is used even in other countries of the world to refer to an official body formed under a law within specific guidelines, with the participation of the complete legal community and judicial sector with the mandate to uphold confidence and trust in the judiciary,” read a letter sent by the court to the Home Ministry on April 9.

The letter goes on to argue that the MBA is a private group which does not represent all lawyers, meaning that it does not have the legal mandate to represent or to speak on the behalf of the entire profession.

“Therefore, we feel that at a time when there is a law being compiled to regulate lawyers and to form a National Bar Association, the existence of an entity by the name of Maldives Bar Association, which does not have the mandate to regulate or represent lawyers within the Maldives justice system may lead to avoidable confusions,” it continued.

While, the association is yet to convene to discuss the matter, Husnu Suood has said that any action with regards to this issue by the Home Ministry will be challenged in the courts.

“My stand is that we are not going to change the name,” explained Suood, adding that the association would be happy to step aside should the new legislation provide for a ‘Bar Council’.

A 2013 UN report recommended that a “self-regulating independent bar association or council” be established to oversee the legal profession.

Suood noted that the MBA currently has over one hundred members, representing around one fifth of the country’s practising lawyers, with a full membership drive waiting until new legislation is completed.

Past clashes

The Supreme Court’s letter was sent on the same day that new regulations determining the licensing of lawyers were published by the Attorney General.

A bill to regulate the legal profession is included in the government’s 207-bill legislative agenda, to be pursued during the current administration’s five year term.

After receiving the letter, the Home Ministry today informed the Bar Association that it has 14 working days to inform the ministry of the necessary changes.

The day prior to the sending of the letter – April 8 – the Bar Association had called for the suspension of Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed pending an investigation into allegations over the judge’s appearance in a series of sex tapes.

“Definitely there is a connection between our press statement and the decision by the Supreme Court [to send the letter],” said Suood.

He also drew similarities between the court’s letter and lawyer Ibrahim Waheed’s retaliatory calls for the MBA president’s investigation for bribery – also made on April 8.

The Prosecutor General’s Office has since decided to pursue corruption charges against Judge Ali Hameed in relation to the illegal transfer of credit from his state-funded mobile phone in 2010.

The MBA’s call for Hameed’s investigation came just days after the suspension of Suood had been lifted by the court on the condition he refrain from engaging in any act that may undermine the courts.

Suood was told his January suspension was related to an allegedly contemptuous tweet regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to annul the first round of last year’s presidential election.

Suood himself, however, has claimed the suspension was in fact linked to his role on a Judicial Services Commission (JSC) committee asked to investigate the Hameed tapes.

Both the committee including Suood, and a prior JSC subcommittee have recommended Hameed’s suspension, with full commission repeatedly failing to accede to the request.


Supreme Court challenges Maldives Bar Association for using the word ‘bar’ in its name

The Supreme Court has allegedly requested the Ministry of Home Affairs to look into the procedures of how the Maldives Bar Association was formed claiming that the use of the word ‘Bar’ in the association’s name was leading to “confusion” among international legal and judicial groups.

The Maldives Bar Association was formed in April to empower, lobby and advocate on behalf of legal practitioners. It was also charged with addressing problems faced by lawyers within the judiciary. The association is currently headed by veteran lawyer and former Attorney General, Husnu Al Suood.

In a letter obtained by Minivan News, allegedly sent by the Supreme Court to the Ministry on May 5, the apex court claimed that in other developed countries, the phrase “Bar” referred to a formal statutory body that represents the entire legal community, unlike the current Maldives Bar Association which is an NGO.

“The newly registered ‘Bar Association’ is an NGO belonging only to its founding members, and considering the confusion that may arise due to a group of individuals using such a name, the judges panel of Supreme Court have on April 30 decided to request the Home Ministry to look into the matter,” read the letter.

Meanwhile, in a second letter, the Ministry of Home Affairs responded to the Supreme Court’s letter stating that prior to the registration of the association, the ministry had consulted with the Attorney General’s office regarding the name.

In response, the ministry stated that the Attorney General did not object to the name, but had requested it reserve the name ‘Maldives Bar Council’ – an institution that is yet to be established under the proposed Legal Practitioners Bill, which the Attorney General’s office is currently in the process of drafting.

Speaking to Minivan News, Maldives Bar Association Secretary General Anas Abdul Sattar disputed the Supreme Court’s view that the term ‘Bar’ was limited to formal statutory bodies.

“Even in India, there is the Bombay Bar Association. The Bombay Bar Council which was formed by a statute came to existence much later, but the bar association still continues to function,” Sattar contended.

Sattar said that Supreme Court was not making the right decision if it were to contend that the term ‘bar’ must only be limited to formal and statutory institutions.

Meanwhile, an attorney working closely with the association told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that the Supreme Court was upset about international organisations recognising the association.

“The Supreme Court was informing those organisations that the Maldives did not have a bar council. They then claimed that they would like to affiliate with the bar association, and that the association satisfied their criterion,” the attorney said.

“If you look into the details, Supreme Court is currently not affiliated with any such organisations and they seemed pretty upset when the international legal community started to recognise the association,” he added.

Minivan News contacted the Supreme Court for a response, but the official demanded formal enquiries in writing and said the court would “respond if appropriate”.

The Supreme Court’s letter challenging the bar association follows its vocal calls for the suspension of Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed, following the release of multiple sex tapes featuring the judge.

Hameed is under investigation by both the police and JSC over the circulation of at least three sex videos apparently depicting him fornicating with unidentified foreign women.

In a previous statement, the association challenged the independence and transparency of any Judicial Service Commission (JSC) investigation into the matter that proceeded without first suspending the judge.

The Maldives Bar Association claimed that it was “against principles adopted in modern democratic societies” to allow Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed to remain on the bench while he faced allegations of adultery and other concerning conduct.


Maldives Bar Association calls for suspension of Supreme Court Justice pending sex video investigation

Additional reporting by Mohamed Naahee

The Maldives Bar Association (MBA) has called for the suspension of Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed pending an investigation into his alleged sexual misconduct.

In a statement, the MBA challenged the independence and transparency of any Judicial Service Commission (JSC) investigation without the suspension of the judge in question.

Hameed is under investigation by both the police and JSC over the circulation of at least three sex videos apparently depicting him fornicating with unidentified foreign women.

Four members of the JSC voted in support of a motion last Wednesday (July 17) against suspending Justice Hameed due to “lack of evidence”, despite recommendations that he be taken off the bench until investigations were concluded.

Following the decision, JSC Deputy Chairman Abdulla Mohamed Didi and Latheefa Gasim resigned from the five-member committee investigating the matter.

The Bar Association, presided over by former Attorney General Husnu Al Suood, said in a statement (Dhivehi) released today that it was “against principles adopted in modern democratic societies” to allow Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed to remain on the bench while he faced allegations of adultery and other concerning conduct.

The JSC last week disregarded a recommendation by its own investigating committee to suspend Hameed, leading the MBA to questioned whether the JSC was capable of reviewing the matter impartially.

The Bar Association said prompt action was needed to verify whether the allegations against the judge were legitimate, in order to maintain public confidence in the integrity of the Maldives judicial system.

Priority, the association argued, had to be given to uphold credibility, integrity and public trust within the country’s legal system rather than “defending the interests” of a single judge.

The statement also called on the JSC to appoint two members to the subcommittee investigated the judge’s conduct that had been left vacant by the resignations of Abdulla Mohamed Didi and Latheefa Gasim.

Transparency calls for investigation

NGO Transparency Maldives also expressed concern that leaked video footage purportedly of a supreme court judge acting in a “culpable manner” could jeopardise the integrity of the country’s apex court, and public confidence in the wider democratic system.

“There is a duty vested upon all relevant authorities to uphold and protect the integrity of such a important state institution,” the NGO said in a statement (Dhivehi).

“Therefore, Transparency Maldives believes that, in order to ascertain Supreme Court’s credibility and public trust, it is very important for all authorities to reveal the truth behind the accusations as soon as possible.”

The NGO called on authorities and the JSC to refrain from any conduct that could be deemed as “dubious” in their handling of investigations into the judge.

Chief Judge of the Supreme Court Ahmed Faiz has meanwhile urged the public and media to refrain from making statements that would give a negative image of the judiciary, and called for constitutional amendments.

Leaked footage

The video of the Supreme Court Justice allegedly indulging in adultery came into media limelight following the arrest of Ahmed Faiz – a senior Council Member of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s Gaumee Ihthihaad Party (GIP) and former Project Advisor at the Housing Ministry.

Snapshots taken from the video began circulating on social media networks Twitter and Facebook, prompting a police investigation. The police formally notified all relevant authorities including the JSC, the Prosecutor General and President Waheed regarding their investigation into the case.

The JSC is also investigating a further two videos involving the Supreme Court Judge, including spy camera videos of Hameed discussing political corruption of the judiciary with a local businessman, and a meeting with former Immigration Controller Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim.

‘Fake’ claims

The footage has been branded a politically motivated attempt to discredit the judge and dismissed as “fake” by local business tycoon, JSC member and presidential candidate MP Gasim Ibrahim,

Gasim has meanwhile said he personally saw no conflict of interest between his bid for the presidency and current role on the judicial watchdog. The presidential candidate  voted against suspending Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed during the JSC vote.

The public’s representative on the JSC, Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman, was sharply critical earlier this year of the commission’s conduct and motivations, particularly its “open discussion” of its intent to eliminate Gasim’s rival presidential candidate, former President Mohamed Nasheed, from contesting the upcoming elections.

“It is common now to hear a lot of MDP and Nasheed bashing in commission meetings. This was not how things usually were before. I believe politically biased comments like this have increased since Gasim joined the JSC as a representative of the parliament,” Sheikh Rahman stated in March.

“Gasim even went to the point of asking the UN Special Rapporteur Gabriela Knaul when she held a meeting with us to state in her report that it was Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) who torched the courts. I heard him say exactly that,” Sheikh Rahman said.

Knaul’s final report to the UN Human Rights Council following her mission to the Maldives in February, was a damning indictment of the country’s judicial crisis.

JP Spokesperson Moosa Ramiz was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.


Maldives Bar Association established

The Maldives Bar Association is being established to build legal capacity, lobby, and address problems faced by lawyers in the judiciary, reports local media.

The association will also aim to improve the educational standard of lawyers as well as hold problem solving discussions.

The association was founded by Attorney General Husnu Al Suood, Lawyer Ismail Wisham, Company Registrar of Economic Ministry Ali Shujau, Fayaz Ismail and Aishath Sheeza, according to local media.

It was registered with the Ministry of Home affairs April 11.