GENEVA – The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, has urged the Maldives to introduce urgent reforms and rectifications after the indefinite suspension of 54 lawyers.
“I call on the authorities to create an independent bar association to oversee lawyers’ affairs,” said the Special Rapporteur. “Its priorities should include protecting lawyers’ independence, defending their interests and enforcing disciplinary measures. It should be self-regulating as well as independent.”
The suspended lawyers had signed a petition raising serious concerns about the independence and functioning of the country’s justice system. Some of them had assembled outside the Supreme Court on 30 August trying to submit the petition and calling for judicial reforms. Their suspension was announced by the Department of Judicial Administration less than two weeks later, on 10 September.
“Just like everyone else, lawyers are entitled to freedom of opinion, expression, association and peaceful assembly,” said the Special Rapporteur. “In particular, they have the right to take part in public discussions on matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the protection of human rights.
“This alarming mass suspension clearly did not abide by international standards regulating disciplinary proceedings against lawyers and protecting their independence, and I strongly condemn it. Not only are the grounds for suspension dubious, but the lawyers have so far not been granted a fair hearing and they have no avenue for appeal.”
The Special Rapporteur noted that the suspended lawyers could represent one-third of the lawyers in private practice in the Maldives, and more than half the lawyers licensed to practise before the Criminal Court.
“I am extremely concerned about the grave consequences these suspensions could have on the independence of the legal profession as a whole, but also on the realization of the right to a fair trial and access to justice in the Maldives,” Mr. García-Sayán said.
“Entire legal teams have been decimated and a number of on-going trials will end up paralysed, to the detriment of the rights of both victims and defendants.
“I call on the authorities to act without delay to enact all the recommendations set out by my predecessor after her official visit to Maldives in 2013,” he added.
Mr. Diego García-Sayán (Peru) has been Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and magistrates since December 2016. As a Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
OHCHR country page – the Maldives