The criminal court has a backlog of 1,910 cases, including a dozen filed a decade ago, according to a report shared with parliament by the Judicial Service Commission.
Citing the report at Tuesday’s sitting, Speaker Mohamed Nasheed noted that there were 126 cases that started five years ago and 181 cases that were filed after the new criminal procedures law came into force in July 2017.
There are only nine judges on the trial court’s bench.
The report includes details about the court’s budget, qualification of judges, a classification of cases and the number of cases on each judge’s docket, Nasheed said.
The judicial watchdog is seeking parliament’s help in making arrangements to expedite the cases, he added.
Among the reasons for delays were failure of police to summon witnesses, lack of a courtroom for each judge and the high turnover of judges. Only four out of the present nine have been on the bench for longer than five years.
The three-member JSC committee that compiled the report recommended temporarily transferring four judges from other courts. If the nine sitting judges each held four hearings a day, it would still take two and a half years to clear the backlog, the report observed.
The estimated period would fall to one year and eight months with four new judges, it noted.
With a caseload of 376, Judge Ali Adam has the highest number of unfinished cases, followed by Judge Ali Rasheed and Judge Ibrahim Ali with 280 cases each. Chief Judge Ahmed Hailam has the fewest number with 141 cases. All the other judges have more than 150 cases.
During the debate on the report, MPs expressed concern with the stalled trials including cases of child abuse, terrorism and murder. It was “unacceptable” for child abuse cases to remain stalled for so long, said MP Rozaina Adam.
MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party also stressed the injustice of defendants who remain in jail for long periods awaiting a verdict. Some defendants have spent eight years in prison despite not being convicted of a crime.
It is not uncommon for hearings to be held years apart, they noted. In most countries, the practice is to hold continuous daily hearings to conclude a case.
The JSC report was sent to the judiciary committee for further review after the debate.
The high caseload for judges was also flagged by Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi at a conference on judicial independence and reform in February.
The superior courts in Malé have a backlog of 16,657 cases, he said. At the end of 2018, there were 42 judges in five trial courts, each of whom were assigned 398 cases on average.
“Such a high caseload is one of the biggest reasons for delays in concluding cases,” he said.