A senior legal official who served under the current and former administrations has claimed the country’s legal system is wide open to corruption, by allowing individual judges to schedule court hearings at their whim.
The legal figure, who has been involved in some of the country’s highest profile cases in recent years, told Minivan News that it was “quite evident” that the lack of a centralised system for scheduling legal hearings was not only resulting in massive inefficiency, but also allowing for corruption within the country’s court system.
Both the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office and the country’s judicial watchdog body have maintained they have limited involvement at present in deciding when hearings should be scheduled – with almost all decisions being taken by individual courts.
However, a PG’s Office spokesperson claimed that the Criminal Procedure Code presently sitting within the People’s Majlis was, if passed, anticipated to allow pre-trial hearings to give the prosecution and other parties a greater say in agreeing general timeliness for trials.
The senior legal source, who asked to remain anonymous, concurred that the responsibility for scheduling trial and sentencing hearings was presently the responsibility of individual courts and the judges overhearing them. The source alleged the system had created a situation where the judiciary, in certain cases, set hearings either as soon as possible, or instead delay them for up to several years depending on their own preferences and political motivations.
Such inconsistencies within the scheduling of several cases involving senior parliament and political figures – or their close associates – had left courts open to allegations of corruption and political motivation, the senior legal official claimed.
In one case submitted by the PG’s Office that involved a staff member working for former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom facing allegations of child abuse, the source claimed there had been a delay of several years between the trial’s last last hearing and sentencing – despite all evidence having been submitted to the court.
“The judge presiding over the trail announced that the next hearing would be to deliver sentencing, but there had been delays of several years before this was scheduled,” the source claimed. “I understand letters were written by the PG’s Office asking to expedite the case, yet the situation [of delayed hearings] is quite common.”
The legal source claimed that this was just one example of a number of cases that had undergone significant delays – sometimes over the space of years – awaiting their next hearing within the nation’s courts without any specified reason.
“There must be hundreds of cases like this,” he said. “There is no central system for scheduling hearings, just six or seven judges all acting independently of each other.”
In outlining alleged inconsistencies within the scheduling of court hearings, the source pointed to the decision of the Criminal Court on February 23 this year to dismiss three long-standing counts of fraud against Parliament Deputy Speaker and ruling-coalition aligned MP Ahmed Nazim all at once.
The decision was taken by the court 16 days after the controversial transfer of power on February 7, with the presiding judge stating that Nazim’s “acts were not enough to criminalise him”.
“The Criminal Court dropped all of Mr Nazim’s cases,” the anonymous source claimed. I had never seen a criminal case where so much evidence failed to lead to a conviction.”
In an interview to the local media outlet Sun following the rulings, Nazim claimed that a total of four cases against him over alleged fraud were baseless and had been leveled by former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration, using false evidence.
Nasheed is currently being tried over the detention of a Criminal Court chief Judge, who he alleges took the country’s legal system into his own hands and posed a threat to “national security”.
Aside from allegations of potential corruption, the source also raised fears that the present lack of a centralised scheduling system was failing to promote accountability or efficiency in the nation’s judiciary.
“If for instance the PG’s Office files two different cases about the same suspect, the courts might schedule one hearing for today and another next week, with the judge unaware that there are pending cases against the suspect.
Responding to Minivan News over the allegations of potential judicial corruption, court watchdog the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) referred the matter to the Department of Judicial Administration, saying the scheduling of hearings and any such concerns were not within its mandate.
“The scheduling of court hearings are administrative procedures undertaken by individual courts,” the JSC said.
The Department of Judical Services meanwhile said that when hearing criminal cases there presently existed no time limits by which time court hearings should be scheduled.
“In Criminal cases, there are no regulations stipulating requirements about such time limits. However, the court works on a guideline administratively adopted” said department spokesperson Ahmed Maajid.
Minivan News was still waiting for a response from the Department of Judical Services about these administrative guidelines at time of press.
Questioned as to whether the legal sources were shared by the prosecutor general, a spokesperson for the PG’s Office told Minivan News that it was for the courts to determine the schedule of court hearings.
“Generally we are not involved, unless, for example, a hearing involves travel to some of the country’s outer islands, then we might discuss a schedule with the courts,” he said.
The PG’s Office said it did not “usually” write to the courts regarding the issue of court scheduling , unless it had itself received complaints over the matter.