Why would supporters of former President Nasheed wait until the eve of his appeal to the Maldives Supreme Court to launch an attack on the international legal adviser to the Government?
Late last week an article appeared in a British newspaper, The Independent. It stated that six months before Omnia began to advise the Government – and before that agreement was even first discussed, I – and BTP Advisers, an international PR firm – had spoken to a lobbyist for Nasheed who is a Conservative Member of the UK Parliament. This preliminary conversation was to see if we would be interested in representing the former President and took place – as The Independent has revealed – sometime before Nasheed appointed Ben Emmerson QC, Amal Clooney and Jared Genser to represent him. That I spoke to a British Conservative MP – that the newspaper chose not to name – is not a secret: Omnia, the Government and indeed the former President’s supporters have known of this for many months.
This attack on me is, first and foremost, personal – and one of many I have been receiving, as have many others, in the press and social media – when the Nasheed case should be purely a matter of law. Secondly, it has nothing to do with the charges against the former President – but then neither has his supporters’ call for sanctions, ejections from international bodies or accusations of impropriety by the advisers of the other side.
Instead, it is a sideshow. Supporters of the former President need to make as much noise in public and in the press as possible because the activities of which he is accused are so hard to contest in court, not least when he has confirmed them in media interviews on at least two occasions. The matter is now pending before the Supreme Court and he will now have the opportunity to make the points in a court of law that his legal time have long been making in the political arena.
In this regard, let’s take a closer look at The Independent’s story, and also address what really happened.
The article’s main purpose is to try to undermine the position of the Government by declaring that I have courted both sides in a legal and political battle. This is quite untrue and whilst I would not ordinarily respond to such a ridiculous allegation, it is important that the position is clarified, as it is a clear and cynical attempt to cause me to withdraw from my representation of the Government.
In certain circumstances a Barrister may be precluded from accepting an instruction on the basis of a ‘conflict of interest’ or if he is in receipt of information confidential to one party. However, the mere fact that there has been contact does not create a conflict. Members of the Bar may be approached by either party during the preliminary stages and if no agreement is reached with one party there is nothing to preclude counsel being instructed by the other party.
My entire contact with the other party in this matter consisted of a single conference call with the Conservative MP. The information I received regarding the matter at hand was through reading online news articles that anyone can access. After the call I was asked to submit a written proposal, which I did. There was never any discussion of fees or being formally instructed; it was a general proposal outlining steps that could be taken.
I must therefore correct The Independent’s story and the former President’s legal team: I did not ‘pitch’ both sides in the same dispute. As noted, the contact went no further than that initial discussion. I never personally met or spoke to any member of the former President’s legal team or political office – only the MP.
So, I prepared a preliminary proposal on the basis of non-confidential information that was obtained from publicly available sources. I must also be quite clear: the proposal I submitted was not in Omnia’s name, but in a private capacity. I was not contacted through Omnia, nor did Omnia have any involvement in this matter at all.
Within that proposal are certain points that have been seized upon by The Independent and media outlets in Maldives highlighted as being issues that demonstrate a conflict. What must be understood is that points raised within the proposal are points that I was asked to address, and done so with information obtained at the time through publicly available sources. These were not personal or professional opinions, but the restatement of information already in the public domain. Indeed, if I knew then as I know now that so much of what is written about the former President, and the inaccurate portrayal of the government by his supporters and friends is simply wrong, none would have been included.
There has also been suggestion that I supported the notion that the former President’s trial was politically motivated and that sanctions were appropriate. I would repeat that I expressed no personal or professional opinion during the brief 20-minute exchange as to whether I agreed or otherwise. I summarized my experience and the areas in which I could assist if instructed to achieve some of these aims.
The contact did not go any further than a proposal. At no time was I instructed, at no time did I receive or discuss any confidential documents or information, and at no time did I receive any information that was not in the public domain. In short, and despite the suggestions to the contrary, there is no ‘conflict of interest’, despite The Independent’s best efforts to suggest otherwise.
At the time of discussing the matter with the Conservative MP I could not have anticipated an approach through Omnia that took place some 3-4 months later. The Government of Maldives’ approach to Omnia was entirely separate.
During, my engagement by the Government I have had the benefit of spending the past few months to discuss how national institutions operate and identifying areas that the Government is keen to reform. This can only be achieved by a full analysis of the legal and constitutional framework and not by advising (or criticising) from afar.
As to why the initial approach from the other party was not taken further, I cannot know. I never discussed fees or any other arrangements although it was made clear that they were seeking pro-bono representation. I made it clear that, as I already had a number of other pro-bono clients, it was unlikely I could act for them if that was necessary.
There has also been a suggestion made by the former President’s political party, MDP, that I approached the former President’s legal team at a time when they were already in the process of engaging their legal team of Emmerson, Clooney and Genser. To be clear I did not make any approach and I never spoke to any person other than the Conservative MP. The MDP then allege that I subsequently approached the Government. This statement is simply untrue and is highly irresponsible for the former President or his advisors to attempt to misrepresent the position for political gain.
As a member of the Bar of England and Wales I am quite aware of my professional obligations. I represent all of my clients with the same level of rigour and determination. I use all legal and ethical means at my disposal to best serve the interests of all my clients. I was instructed by the Government of Maldives to advise on the response to the former President’s complaint to the UN Working Group and to advise on legislative and institutional reform. I remain committed to assisting the Government to advance its reform agenda in this regard. I consider the commitment by the Government to these principles to be sincere and appropriate – not least when I am aware of the real situation – not just that what is reported in the popular press.
Personal opinions are an irrelevance, just as a story seeking to create conflict and seeking to create news where there is in none, are also an irrelevance. The Nasheed case needs to be argued on the basis of legal fact, not in public through well-timed personal attacks. If those who defend the former President wish to support continued development of democracy and credible justice in the Maldives, as they purport to, they need to not just recognize this, but also start to act as if they do.
Toby Cadman is a partner at Omnia Strategy, a legal firm employed by the Maldivian government to respond to the UN working group on arbitrary detention on former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment.
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