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Courtroom confusion after judge change in chief justice trial

The judge said he didn’t know there had been an earlier hearing or that another judge had presided over the case.



A heated debate took place in the criminal court Sunday after the judge overseeing the trial of Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed said he was unaware that another judge had presided over an earlier pre-trial hearing.

Defence attorneys, Hisaan Hussain and Noorusalam Abubakuru, expressed concern because the “change had happened in violation to the criminal procedures law and court procedures.” They questioned whether state prosecutors had requested a change.

Hisaan insisted that a judge can only be changed with a justifiable reason and both defendant and prosecutor must be informed before a change can happen. She requested the court to follow procedures ahead of future hearings.

State prosecutor Shamla Shameem objected to her request.

The newest appointee to the criminal court, Judge Ahmed Hailam, had previously presided over a pre-trial hearing of the case, but Judge Ibrahim Ali oversaw the trial on Sunday.

Judge Ali said he was unaware that a previous hearing had been held and that another judge had presided over the case. A court official rushed to the judge’s bench and informed him about the previous hearing held in March, local media reported.

He said that the case was sent to his section of the court for the first time this month. He also said court documents did not show the case was presided over by a different judge.

Judge Ali announced that he would continue to oversee the case and decided to proceed with the trial. He also declared that Saeed had denied the charges despite his refusal to speak and the lawyers’ insistence that the charges were unclear.

Saeed faces obstruction charges on allegations that he ordered Supreme Court staff to halt the network used to exchange documents between state authorities on February 4 and 5 in the immediate aftermath of an order to release nine political prisoners.

– ‘Politically motivated’ –

The state has presented three secret witnesses and documents against Saeed. Lawyers noted that the court had violated the criminal procedures law as the documents were not shared with them within the stipulated period of five days.

They said that documents can be made secret only after obtaining a court order, which the court has not yet issued. But the state prosecutor insisted that a letter had been sent to court requesting to anonymise the witnesses and documents.

Judge Ali issued the order when the prosecutor officially sought to anonymise evidence in court on Sunday. He then gave two days to submit the necessary documents ahead of the next hearing, which is scheduled for Thursday.

A lawyer, who spoke to the Maldives Independent on condition of anonymity, criticised “the ongoing politically motivated trials” of the justices and key politicians as “proving the recklessness of court procedures.”

“It is alarming that a judge does not know what is happening in a trial he is presiding over,” said the lawyer. “And just because court documents are false, it does not change reality or the truth.”

He claimed that such irregularities and questionable decisions are a “result of fast-tracking trials without regard to the laws and regulations.”

Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed were arrested during a state of emergency after the Supreme Court order on February 1. The pair face several charges including bribery and terrorism in connection to an alleged coup plot.

They are to be detained for the duration of the terrorism trials which are yet to begin. They were also summoned to court on Sunday for a separate secret trial on charges of influencing official conduct.

Hisaan said the state submitted four criminal court orders – one of which was signed by the judge presiding over the case – as evidence.

She said this could cause a conflict of interest and requested the judge to recuse himself but the judge rejected the motion.

Saeed, Hameed and detained former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom are due to appear in court Monday for their trial on obstruction of justice charges.

They are accused of refusing to comply with police orders to hand over their phones to check for evidence believed to be linked to the alleged coup plot.