November 9, 2017
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.