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.

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

MP allowance debacle “not a mix-up”: State Finance Minister

The Finance Ministry today rejected implications that yesterday’s release and recall of the controversial Rf20,000-a-month committee allowances against a court injunction was a mistake which had caused confusion in the government.

“I don’t think it’s a mix-up,” said State Minister of Finance Ahmed Assad today. Assad was unclear about the court injunction.

“Releasing that sort of money is not a big procedure, I think this is just people trying to follow the general rules and experiencing an administrative error,” he said.

Assad didn’t believe anyone deserved blame, and said that “if anything, it is the ministry at large that was at fault.”

Local daily Haveeru yesterday reported that the allowances had been issued “by mistake.”

Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz had not responded to Minivan inquiries at time of press.

The court injunction, which was issued on September 26, ordered the Finance Ministry not to release funds for the committee allowance until the court rules on a case filed on behalf of a civil servant, contending that the allowance could not be given before deducted amounts from civil servants salaries were paid back.

The injunction has since been appealed by the Attorney General’s Office at the High Court, which is due to hold a first hearing on Sunday.

Parliamentary privileges

Meanwhile parliament yesterday debated a motion without notice proposed by Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed claiming that a civic action campaign launched by concerned citizens in late August violated MPs’ special privileges.

MDP MP Ahmed Easa told Minivan News yesterday that colleagues had said the allowance was being released to the parliament secretariat, but he was told that it had been held back by the Minister of Finance.

“I don’t think there was any wording, anything in what the court said indicating that they couldn’t release the money,” said Easa. “But no money has been going in to my account today, I can tell you that.”

Easa elaborated on the allowance, saying that the amount of staffing support and allowances other government branches received justified MPs accepting the proposed allowance.

“The MP point of view is that some of the independent wages and allowances are greater than MPs. The MPs are expected to do research and other duties, but we don’t have an office, a supporting staff, a phone allowance, a travel stipend to visit constituents or other things to support our work. Seven percent of our salary is taken out for a pension fund, and Male’ is an expensive place to live,” said Easa.

Easa said he will accept the allowance, but pointed out that he had always objected to it in parliament on the grounds that all payrolls should be streamlined.

“But if these other government groups are taking an allowance, why not the MPs? This is a democracy, so I always respect the majority decision.”

Lawyer Mohamed Shafaz Wajeeh, one of two lawyers involved in the civil case, argued that the number of people benefiting from the allowance does not justify the sum released, which amounts to Rf18 million (US$1.1 million).

“It’s greed. Just greed,” Shafaz said. “MPs and higher-ups in the government are probably more aware of their own power than they should be. The thinking behind this goes against everything we know.”

Shafaz suggested the government consider other options, such as releasing the allowance in installments to lighten the burden on the state budget and other subsidiaries.

“But I’m not sure how much political will there is to do this. Everyone says the allowance is a good idea.”

Civil society

Although members of the civil sector earlier issued a statement objecting to the allowance, which they called “a gross injustice to the Maldivian people,” they have not articulated an official position on the issue of late.

Maldives Democracy Network (MDN) Director Fathimath Ibrahim Didi said that individuals in the organization were involved at the beginning, but that they did not represent MDN.

“Now, I think there may be a group working against the allowance, but it is loosely formed involving people from NGOs, lawyers and individuals,” she said.

Transparency Director Ilham Mohamed told Minivan News that a volunteer team was addressing the matter, but that large protests had not been organized among local non-government organizations (NGOs).

“I believe there may be sporadic gatherings in different places,” said Mohamed. “I do know that the NGOs that were involved in the original statement opposing the MP allowance are unified on this issue.”

“Symbolic”

The decision to approve the Rf20,000 (US$1200) monthly allowances in December 2010 was met with  protests and widespread public indignation. However in June this year, parliament rejected a resolution proposed by opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf to scrap the allowance.

Meanwhile the current civic action campaign was prompted by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) deciding in late August to to issue a lump sum of Rf140,000 (US$9,000) as committee allowance back pay for January through July this year.

Article 102 of the constitution states that parliament shall determine the salaries and allowances of the President, Vice President, cabinet ministers, members of parliament, members of the Judiciary, and members of the independent institutions.

The Rf20,000 allowance was initially approved on December 28, 2010 as part of a revised pay scheme recommended by the PAC.

During yesterday’s debate on a privileges motion regarding the anti-committee allowance campaign, MP ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed, a member of the PAC, explained that the committee felt that MPs should earn a higher salary than High Court judges.

“But even then the honourable members of the Public Accounts Committee believed that MPs were receiving a sufficiently large salary in relation to the country’s economic situation,” he said, adding that a decision was made to institute a “symbolic” committee allowance.

“The thinking at the time was to give it to MPs who attend committee meetings as a very symbolic thing, for example one laari or 15 laari. But to ensure that take-home pay for MPs would be Rf82,500,” he said.

However, he continued, this “noble effort” became politicised and the subject of “an anti-campaign programme.”

Colonel called for legal action against the activists “when they go beyond the boundaries of free expression” and the right to protest, claiming that MPs’ families and children had been targeted.

Echoing a claim made by a number of MPs yesterday, Colonel said none of his constituents had asked him to decline the allowance.

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)