Supreme Court warns of action against judges over stalled trials

Supreme Court warns of action against judges over stalled trials
January 21 15:54 2016

In a bid to speed up trials, the Supreme Court warned that action will be taken against judges over unduly stalled cases.

The apex court issued a circular yesterday saying that it will hear complaints from defendants and prosecutors and take action against judges if a trial has been delayed for an unreasonable amount of time.

Stalled cases would then be “reassigned to another judge of the presiding court” or “reassigned to a judicial delegation chosen by the Supreme Court.”

The new rules are aimed at ensuring the delivery of justice with “ease and in a timely manner,” the court said.

The Maldivian judiciary’s practice of conducting trials in a series of short hearings often leads to long delays. A period of months or even years between hearings are commonplace. Several high-profile trials have taken years to reach completion.

In August last year, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed ordered all courts to clear backlog of long-pending cases within one month. The criminal court is known to have the longest delays in completing trials.

At the start of 2015, some 1,152 cases remained pending at the criminal court. Of these, 20 cases related to offences dating more than five years back. Some 530 cases were between one and three years old. Another 246 cases were between three and five years old, and some 356 cases were just a year old.

The criminal court said last week that only 890 cases remained pending at the end of 2015.

The Supreme Court also issued a regulation yesterday requiring the court’s approval for transferring judges.

The constitution entrusts the power and responsibility of appointing, promoting, and transferring judges to the watchdog Judicial Service Commission. But the new regulation states that the JSC will transfer judges after approval from a council of Supreme Court justices.

The regulation states that judges can be transferred upon request by a judge or based on the need for a judge to work at a different court to gain experience and the need for a judge to be transferred based on qualifications and experience.

Once a transfer has been approved, the judge must be given a reasonable period of time to complete pending cases.

In a similar move earlier this month, the Supreme Court announced that all magistrates and judges have to seek permission from the court before taking time off and from recusing themselves from cases.

In a brief announcement, the apex court said: “It has come to our attention that courts are not able to hold hearings as per court schedules because many judges are on leave at the same time.

Last December, the court prohibited lower courts from going on recess citing matters of national interest. In addition to corruption and terrorism charges against former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, several high-profile cases are pending at various stages at the courts.

The apex court had seized the power to administer the judiciary by bringing the Department of Judicial Administration under its remit.

The DJA was first established in 2008 and was to function under the watchdog Judicial Services Commission. The DJA replaced the ministry of justice when the Maldives adopted a new and democratic Constitution in 2008.

In December that year, the interim Supreme Court issued a ruling and brought the department under its remit.

With the enactment of the Judicature Act in 2010, the DJA was reestablished with a mandate for court management, public relations, training of judges, and providing security for judges.

The department was to function under the newly created Judicial Council, which was to comprise of the chief justice, a second Supreme Court judge, the chief judge of the high court, senior judges of the civil, criminal, family and juvenile courts, one magistrate from the north and one from the south.

But the Supreme Court abolished the council and seized its powers in a 2010 ruling that struck down the relevant articles in the Judicature Act.

In May 2014, the Supreme Court formulated new regulations making it mandatory for judges and judicial employees to seek permission to attend overseas workshops, seminars, conferences, or training programmes.