A new study has identified corruption in the Maldives as the leading factor in lack of public confidence in the justice sector. Many Maldivians, therefore, want to settle disputes out of court.
The UNDP’s ‘Legal and Justice Sector Baseline Study 2014’ said some 71 percent of Maldivians preferred to settle disputes outside of court due to lack of confidence.
Nearly 40 percent identified corruption as a major challenge in seeking justice, followed by lack of awareness of services and costs of obtaining justice.
The study recommended the government conduct anti-corruption initiatives to address the perceived corruption.
The study, inaugurated on Wednesday by Attorney General Mohamed Anil, is the first of its kind, and was carried out from April – September 2014 with the aim of identifying challenges in access to justice.
The study conducted a desk review of data, a nationwide public perceptions survey where 2,076 households were surveyed, and focus group discussions with various legal and justice sector staff.
It found that only 17 percent of survey respondents had any experience in dealing with the courts over the past five years. Of this number, one in three were not satisfied.
Delays in justice delivery and lack of awareness also contributed to lack of confidence.
“The case backlog is ridiculously high,” said one participant in a focus group discussion. Some 23 percent of survey respondents said they would not seek help from a justice agency, including the police and the courts, due to delays.
There is no mechanism to monitor and inspect non-performance of judges and backlog of each judge to find out reasons for delays in concluding cases, the study found.
Justice sector staff identified the lack of trained legal staff in the courts, lack of resources, lack of a case management system and heavy caseloads for judges as the reasons for delays.
The study also found that courts lacked systematic, realistic, time-bound and comprehensive procedural rules in the justice system, which leads to conflicting decisions by different courts and conflicting decisions by judges of the same court.
It urged the parliament to enact a criminal and civil procedure codes urgently to streamline judicial processes. In the interim period, the courts could compile a temporary civil and criminal procedure codes, the study recommended.
The study also highlighted the absence of witness protection programs as an impediment to justice. It deprives victims and witnesses of support, and prevents witnesses from coming forward to provide evidence in criminal matters.
‘There is no victim protection because of the prolonged duration it takes to prosecute. The victim ends up living close-by to the perpetrator. This is especially true for child-abuse cases,” one participant in a focus group discussion said.
On the lack of awareness, the perceptions survey found that very basic information such as how to file a case is unknown to many Maldivians.
Only 66 percent of respondents said they were aware that a new constitution has been in place since 2008. Some 74 percent were unable to name significant changes in the constitution, demonstrating a lack of awareness of constitutional changes and rights.
More than 50 percent of the respondents were not aware of their right to legal representation, and only 19 percent knew of the right to remain silent.
High lawyer fees also impeded access to justice. Meanwhile, Maldivians who reside outside the capital have no access to lawyers as the large majority of some 700 lawyers are based in the capital.