Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) Speaks out in Support of 56 Lawyers Summarily Suspended in Maldives After Calling for Judicial Reform
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) has joined a number of prominent international non-governmental organisations in calling on the Supreme Court of the Maldives to rescind the indefinite suspension of 56 lawyers who signed a joint petition raising concerns over the conduct of the judiciary and calling for judicial reforms and independence.
Following receipt of the petition, the Department of Judicial Administration published an announcement via Twitter stating that 56 lawyers would be indefinitely suspended from legal practice and investigated for obstructing the independence of the judiciary, remarking on the duties of the judiciary and attempting to influence the courts by preparing and signing an illegal document against the jurisdiction, procedures and decisions of the courts in violation of various laws, including the Constitution of the Maldives.
It is reported that the lawyers’ petition had raised several rule of law concerns including the Court’s alleged tendency to rule on critical matters late at night and suspend dissenting lawyers without due process. The UN Human Rights Council has previously raised concerns about violations of the right to a fair trial and allegations of political bias by the judiciary of the Maldives, however the Maldivian Government rejects all such criticism as unlawful infringements against the judiciary.
ALHR President Benedict Coyne said, “It appears that none of the 56 lawyers have been allowed to exercise their right to defend themselves or be heard before a professional disciplinary body and have no redress mechanism available to challenge their suspension.”
“The Maldives High Court has previously ruled that courts must directly inform the individual in question of a disciplinary action against them in order to maintain due process and procedural fairness. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provide that any disciplinary proceedings against lawyers must be conducted in a fair and impartial manner, including by guaranteeing the right to be assisted by a lawyer of their choice and access to an independent judicial review,” said Mr Coyne.
“The Basic Principles also state that lawyers are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly, including the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights.
“ALHR calls on the Supreme Court of the Maldives to heed these requirements and properly respect the suspended lawyers’ right to due process and to freedom of expression.”
“Fifty-six lawyers represents a not-insignificant proportion of the legal profession in the Maldives and ALHR is concerned by the human rights implications for both the lawyers in question and for those who may now be left without legal assistance, including, it is reported, human rights activists and political prisoners.
“The Supreme Court of the Maldives should engage with judicial reform efforts and embrace due process as a fundamental aspect of the transition back to democratic governance.”
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ALHR was established in 1993 and is a national association of Australian solicitors, barristers, academics, judicial officers and law students who practise and promote international human rights law in Australia. ALHR has active and engaged National, State and Territory committees and specialist thematic committees. Through advocacy, media engagement, education, networking, research and training, ALHR promotes, practices and protects universally accepted standards of human rights throughout Australia and overseas.