Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed today ordered all courts to clear backlog of long-pending cases within one month. Lawyers say the move is “practically impossible.”
“We have noticed some cases have been pending at the courts for excessively long periods of time,” Saeed said in his open letter to the lower courts.
The Department of Judicial Administration was ordered to help the lower courts manage and complete cases within a one-month period. The brief letter did not specify the length of time the apex court considers as being excessive.
The Maldives judiciary, especially the criminal court, has been criticized for delays in completing cases.
According to the criminal court’s annual report of 2014, some 2,236 cases were pending at the beginning of the year. A further 873 cases were lodged during the year, but only 1,957 cases were completed by the end of the year.
At the start of 2015, some 1,152 cases remained pending. 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.
Statistics for 2014 were not available for the high court and civil court. But statistics from 2013 show the high court completed 289 cases during the year and had 389 pending cases at the end of 2013.
Noting that courts usually schedule cases a month in advance, several prominent lawyer who wished to remain anonymous said the time period was too short for courts to clear backlogs.
“It would have been more reasonable had the Supreme Court given the lower courts until the end of the year,” one lawyer said.
The letter comes days after a row broke out between criminal court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed and Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin. The two quarreled over the nature of charges against suspects accused of assaulting a policeman.
Rifts within the criminal court became apparent this week. Judge Abdulla transferred a high profile politician charged with terrorism and held in custody for more than three months to house arrest. The next day, Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf overturned the ruling and ordered the Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla to be taken back into police custody.
Judge Bari was among the three judges who had sentenced former president Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim to jail in trials widely criticized for lack of due process.
The other two Judges Sujau Usman and Abdulla Didi were promoted to the High Court shortly after the verdicts were issued. Bari was also awarded a discounted luxury flat.