Maldives faces judicial crisis | Connect Asia

Maldives faces judicial crisis

Maldives faces judicial crisis

Updated 1 February 2012, 16:17 AEST

The newly democratic Indian Ocean republic of the Maldives is facing what its own government is calling a "judicial crisis" following the arrest by the military of a senior judge.

The detention of Abdulla Mohamed has sparked protests at home and abroad with the United Nations calling for the judge to be either freed or charged.

The Maldives vice president has also called for judge's release saying he's ashamed of his own government's actions.

President Mohamed Nasheed, himself a political prisoner under the islands previous authoritarian regime, argues the judicial system is in crisis because it's unable to regulate itself and accuses the judge of political bias.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane

Speaker: John Dowd, President of the Australian branch of the International Commission of Jurists

DOWD: Clearly he has been demonstrating independence as he's supposed to do and the government doesn't like it. There is even if the government's assertions about what he's supposed to have done wrong, none of it would warrant arrest, none of it would warrant his incarceration, and it's clear that the must be immediately released. This will do serious damage to the Maldives internationally and their tourist industry is a big part of their income and they just can't allow this to go on.

COCHRANE: And specifically I understand the judge has been accused of releasing a government critic from detention. Now you've been to the country. What's your understanding of the competence or otherwise of the judiciary?

DOWD: The judiciary is generally competent. It's not a legally focused country. They've had a change of government after some 30 odd years and there's obviously a settling down period and they do need assistance in terms of bringing their legal system up to date. But nonetheless, there is nothing wrong with the way the judges carry out their duties and it's just a classic situation of a government not liking someone's decision.

COCHRANE: Now the Maldives has called on the UN to help sort the mess out. What realistically do you think can be done?

DOWD: Well, I don't know that the UN is the proper body to do it. The Commonwealth Secretariat based in London because it's a member of the Commonwealth has been interested in law reform in the Maldives and in fact last year there was some discussions about assistance they could provide. It's got a funny legal system in that there are aspects of Sharia law in it and British Commonwealth law and so on. But I would have thought that the Commonwealth Secretariat could have arranged some judges or someone that could go in there to mediate and the Commonwealth is the more likely basis for resolving the issue. It really is very difficult for outsiders to intervene and I don't think the UN is the correct body.

COCHRANE: What about Australia as a provider of aid? Do you think the Australian government should get involved?

DOWD: Oh, I think it would. I mean Australia is respected in the Maldives, a lot of Australians go there and I think it would be very good for our foreign minister to make an offer to provide people that could go there and resolve it judicially or otherwise. We've got successful judicial commissions here and clearly there are some problems with the judicial conditions, but nevertheless, I think it would be a proper thing for Australia to do with a near Commonwealth neighbour of ours.

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