Police institution not liable for unlawful arrest, high court rules

Police institution not liable for unlawful arrest, high court rules
November 26 21:30 2016

Individual police officers must bear responsibility for the unlawful arrest of a former police intelligence director in March 2013, the high court decided Tuesday, ruling that the Maldives Police Service is not liable for damages.

The ruling came after the police appealed a civil court judgment that declared Sabra Noordeen’s arrest unlawful, unwarranted, and tantamount to “abuse of power.” The court also ordered the police to apologise in writing and to erase the record of her arrest.

The high court agreed that the police did not follow due process but overturned the lower court order on the grounds that the entire police institution cannot be held responsible. The appellate court cited provisions in the Police Act for investigating unlawful conduct or abuse of powers by police officers.

Delivering the verdict, Chief Judge Abdulla Didi said Sabra has the right to seek compensation from individual police officers. She could also file complaints with oversight bodies if she believes her rights were violated, he noted.

Along with the chief judge, the three-judge panel comprised of Judges Abdulla Hameed and Abdul Rauf.

Sabra, an aide to former President Mohamed Nasheed, was handcuffed and taken into custody upon her arrival at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport on March 16, 2013. She was accused of inciting violence against a policeman during the opposition leader’s arrest on March 5.

She was taken to the police headquarters in Malé and released with a summons to appear for questioning at a later date.

The high court noted that her prompt release cast doubt on the necessity of her arrest.

Sabra had first appealed the criminal court’s warrant for her arrest and sought compensation for damages. But the high court ruled in August 2013 that the arrest warrant was valid and instructed Sabra to file a civil suit for compensation.

The police spokeswoman told the Maldives Independent that the police will appeal Tuesday’s high court ruling. She declined to provide further details.

Sabra meanwhile noted that the police had declared in July that the Maldives Police Service as an institution will answer to the actions of individual police officers in the line of duty.

A mechanism exists within the police to monitor the work of police officers on official duty, the police said in a statement at the time.

The police statement “went so far as to state that calls to hold individual police officers accountable was an attempt to break the unity of the police line,” she wrote on Facebook.

“I will definitely be appealing,” she added.

On November 16, the high court also overturned a civil ruling that ordered the police to reinstate former Chief Superintendent Mohamed ‘MC’ Hameed.

The lower court had found that the former head of police intelligence was unfairly dismissed. But the high court ruled that suspicion of leaking confidential information was valid grounds for Hameed’s dismissal.

Despite the gravity of the allegations, Hameed’s decision to remain silent and refusal to hire an attorney when he was summoned to the police disciplinary board showed that he was unfit for the post, the high court said.

The lower court’s order to reinstate Hameed was based on a precedent set by the supreme court in its controversial ruling on the case of the disgraced former chairman of the civil service commission.

The apex court had overturned the parliament’s decision to sack Mohamed Fahmy Hassan over allegations of sexual harassment, contending that he could not be removed unless he was found guilty by a court of law.

However, the high court said that the precedent could not be applied in Hameed’s case as the supreme court did not refer to either the police regulations or the Employment Act, both of which it said were relevant in the dismissal of the police intelligence chief.