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.