The Maldives judiciary has hit back at criticism over delays in justice delivery and lack of public awareness on services in a recent report by the UNDP and the Attorney General’s Office.
The report “does not adequately inform the public on the judiciary’s functions and has several shortcomings that are of great concern,” said Ahmed Maajid, the Supreme Court’s deputy legal officer, at a press conference on Thursday evening.
The ‘Legal and Justice Sector Baseline Study 2014’ said some 71 percent of Maldivians preferred to settle disputes out of court due to lack of confidence.
The study identified concerns over fairness, delays in justice delivery, and lack of awareness on judicial processes as the main reasons Maldivians do not seek help from the courts.
The Department of Judicial Administration, in a detailed press statement, dismissed the report’s findings of delays in justice delivery, claiming that the Maldivian courts completed cases within 1.5 years, and are quicker than many countries in South Asia.
The Attorney General’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office must assist with completing cases in a timely manner, the press statement added.
The DJA said some 18,983 cases had been lodged with the courts in 2014. Some 19,900 cases were completed in the same year, these include pending cases.
The report found that very basic information such as how to file a case is unknown to many Maldivians. In response the DJA said: “Although the report states this factor obstructs justice, there has never been any complaints of lack of access to justice due to lack of awareness on procedures of lodging a case at the courts.”
The DJA said the report did not factor in several awareness programmes undertaken by the courts, including a weekly TV programme called “Meezaan” and a radio program called “Legal Aid.”
The courts provide assistance to any citizen who comes seeking help, the DJA said.
Responding to the study’s finding that high costs of legal fees obstructed access to justice, the DJA said the Maldives courts spend about MVR16,000 (US$1,037) on each case.
“Considering these costs, and considering the systems of developed countries, it is likely that the Maldives is the country which conducts judicial proceedings at the lowest costs,” the press release read.
The study said the lack of systematic rules in the justice system led to conflicting decisions by different courts and conflicting decisions by judges of the same court. It recommended that courts adopt interim civil and criminal procedure codes until the parliament enacts relevant laws.
The DJA said the courts had regulations on criminal and civil procedures and said both the civil and family courts had alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in place.
The DJA also accused the researchers of failing to conduct a proper study of judicial processes, and said the judiciary keeps the best statistics of all state branches.
The study had highlighted the lack of accessible date in the justice sector agencies, noting that the police, the prosecutor general’s office and the courts did not code crimes consistently. Researchers had not been able to analyse performance issues across different agencies due to lack of data, the report said.
The Supreme Court has previously dismissed a report on the judiciary by the UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul, claiming it undermined the Maldives’ sovereignty.
The apex court also reprimanded the human rights watchdog in June this year, and imposed an 11-point legally binding guideline after the commission submitted a report to the UN, criticizing the court’s influence over the lower courts.