Connect with us

Feature & Comment

Maldives Supreme Court – a law unto itself?

While the Supreme Court annulled all proceedings against the high-profile politicians, it has not ordered the dismissal of charges. It has ordered their release until a fair retrial.



What has the Supreme Court done?

The Supreme Court Thursday night ordered the immediate release of high-profile prisoners including the former president Mohamed Nasheed and former vice president Ahmed Adeeb. It also reinstated the 12 MPs who were previously stripped of their seats to give the opposition coalition a majority in parliament, which has the power to impeach President Abdulla Yameen.

Why has it done this?

According to the ruling, the court believes in free and fair trials conducted without undue influence. Reading between the lines, who knows?

What next for the people in the verdict?

While the Supreme Court annulled all proceedings against them, it has not ordered the dismissal of charges. It has ordered their release until a fair retrial.

Human rights lawyer Ahmed Sinaz told the Maldives Independent that this allowed for the potential arrest and retrial of all the named individuals.

“With regards to arresting the politicians again after freeing them, I think that is highly unlikely. You have limited circumstances and no necessity that warrants arrest. For example the charges against Nasheed stem from something that happened almost seven years ago.”

“Criminal justice systems are designed so that a person cannot be retried if it is proved that the proceedings that convicted them were unfair or lacked due process. This remains the best practice, although not under Maldivian laws. We have seen people retried here and the Supreme Court ruling specifically mentions retrials. So that is something that will happen,” Sinaz said.

What does it mean for the president and his government?

It does not affect the workings of the government at all, senior ruling party officials have said. A spokesman for the President’s Office said the government had questions about the ruling but would comply with it. Yameen has yet to appear in public, but party officials said he remained committed to the remainder of his term and a re-election bid in this year’s presidential polls.

What does it mean for the Maldives United Opposition?

Protests. A MUO spokesman said the opposition was committed to protests until the government enforced the court ruling. One lawmaker said the question was not if the government will enforce the ruling but when.

What does it mean for parliament?

Yameen lost the parliamentary majority following the submission of a no-confidence motion against the speaker. An anti-defection ruling, which was used to retroactively unseat 12 lawmakers who left the ruling party, helped him maintain control of  parliament. The court’s decision puts his presidency on the line.

What does it mean for this year’s polls?

More unpredictability. If the government complies with the ruling and frees all opposition leaders the opposition’s proposal to field a unity candidate will implode. Nasheed has already told international media that he intends to run. Gasim Ibrahim and Mohamed Nazim – two others named in the verdict – also harbour presidential ambitions.

How did this happen?

The opposition has been trying to curry favour with the Supreme Court since it issued the floor-crossing anti-defection ruling six months ago. An explanatory note issued in August was celebrated as a victory by both the opposition and the ruling party. The opposition then blamed the government and Elections Commission for misinterpreting the vaguely worded and confusing note.

A few days before the current ruling, opposition leaders asked the top court to remove Yameen from power.

“The judgement shows judicial activism that we have come to see from the courts, so I would not say this was unexpected,” Aryj Hussain, a human rights and constitutional lawyer told the Maldives Independent.

“Judicial activism is evidenced by the fact that most courts have delivered completely contradictory decisions on different cases with similar or the same facts,” she added, referring to changes in Supreme Court stances such as ordering the release of Nasheed due to unfair proceedings when the court had upheld Nasheed’s conviction in June 2016.

Can the Supreme Court do this?

“The Supreme Court has extraordinary powers granted to them by the Constitution, that is a given. But the structure of the Constitution depends on institutions using their powers within the spirit of it. While the Supreme Court has the highest authority in administering justice, justice itself must be done through due process, which we hopefully will see within the next few days or weeks,” said Aryj.

Are we sure there isn’t something else going on?

We are not.

Photo: Auf Majeed