More than 130 graduates have been granted licenses to practice law after the supreme court taking over regulating the legal profession from the attorney general’s office caused a year-long delay.
Attorney General Mohamed Anil handed out licenses to 134 new lawyers at a ceremony Monday night. Supreme Court Justice Ahmed Areef administered their oaths.
The attorney general’s office had licensed some 103 lawyers in June 2015, but they were not allowed to appear at court without a second permit from the supreme court, which was introduced under regulations it enacted in July 2012.
In November last year, the court struck down the attorney general’s authority to grant licenses, saying it was taking over licensing powers in order to ensure lawyers comply with standards stipulated in the law. A committee comprised of supreme court justices and the attorney general was formed to issue licenses.
A ceremony scheduled for October 5 to grant licenses to the first batch of lawyers since the apex court took over the process was meanwhile postponed.
According to the department of judicial administration, which functions under the apex court, it was postponed to allow more graduates to apply for the licences.
At Monday night’s ceremony, Attorney General Anil reportedly contended that the development of the legal profession in the Maldives was hindered because some lawyers were pursuing personal or political agendas.
While more than 1,100 lawyers are licensed to practice, Anil said the country has not benefited from their service. He also assured that the rights of lawyers would be protected once new legislation on the legal profession is submitted and approved by the parliament.
In his remarks, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed said lawyers must take care not to act unfairly or unjustly towards others while defending their clients.
Lawyers should also avoid “besmirching either themselves or the legal profession” by their actions, he added.
Efforts are also underway to modernise the justice system to keep pace with the country’s economic development, Saeed said, including the introduction of a dispute resolution stage for civil cases.
Meanwhile, in a comprehensive 2013 report, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul had meanwhile expressed concerned over the absence of an independent self-regulating bar association to oversee the process of admitting candidates to the legal profession.
“The enforcement of compulsory registration of lawyers with the courts is also unacceptable. The regulation of disciplinary measures against lawyers falls outside of the prerogative of the judiciary or any other branch of power and contradicts the principle of independence of the legal profession,” she said.
When the supreme court takes action against lawyers, it leaves no avenue for appeal and review and is a violation of the rights of the lawyer, she added.
An independent bar association, however, “would not only provide a mechanism of protection for its members against undue interference in their legal work, but also monitor and report on their members’ conduct, ensuring their accountability and applying disciplinary measures in a fair and consistent manner,” she said.