Declaring 2015 a success for the embattled Maldivian judiciary on Tuesday, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed vowed to uphold the Maldivian state and protect citizen’s rights.
The judiciary “will remain an institution that upholds the law, the tenets of Islam, and will uphold the Maldivian state and protest the rights of the citizens,” Saeed said at a ceremony to celebrate the judiciary’s work at Paradise Island Resort.
The ceremony was attended by judges, magistrates, and cabinet ministers.
The Supreme Court’s decision to reduce appeal periods, regulation of the legal professions, and the division of the appellate High Court into three branches was highlighted as successes.
“The most important object of judges and the staff of judiciary should be to uphold the principles of the judiciary,” he said.
Shortening the timeframe to file an appeal from 90-days to ten days had “resulted in faster appeal trials ending burdens of the many people,” he said.
He added: “The judiciary has and will work towards developing lawyers. It is one of our most important objectives. Many things have been done in order to achieve this already.”
The shortened appeal period and the Supreme Court’s seizing authority to regulate the legal profession were widely criticised by both lawyers and human rights groups.
The new timeframe for appeal had effectively removed the right of appeal, critics said. The Supreme Court’s regulation to license lawyers, previously carried out by the Attorney General’s Office, was also criticised as a move to curb lawyers’ independence.
Lawyers had to renew their licenses to appear in court and sign a new oath.
The Supreme Court has been criticised for its outsized influence over the Maldivian judiciary, and judicial activism, including contempt of court and treason cases against oversight bodies, annulling of elections and laws.
The Maldivian judiciary is meanwhile under fire for “unfair and rushed” trials against high-profile politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.
In the face of mounting pressure, the government, which insists the judiciary is independent, has promised reforms.
According to a 2014 study by the Attorney General’s Office and the UNDP, most Maldivians preferred to settle disputes outside of court due to lack of confidence in the judiciary. Nearly 40 percent identified corruption as a major challenge in seeking justice, followed by lack of awareness of services and costs of obtaining justice.