The Supreme Court ruled on Sunday that Ali Waheed’s passport appeal could not be heard in his absence.
Former Tourism Minister Ali Waheed is on trial for various sexual offences including seven counts of attempted rape, sexual assault, and harassment, all of which were brought forward by his fellow employees at the Tourism Ministry. Ali Waheed left the country in February after the Criminal Court controversially released his passport, for which the Prosecutor’s General’s office filed an ethics complaint against the judge with the Judiciary Service Commission (JSC).
The decision to release Ali Waheed’s passport was then challenged in the Supreme Court by the Prosecutor General’s office after the High Court was unable to serve the summons due to the office’s failure to locate Ali Waheed’s exact address.
In Ali Waheed’s absence, the Supreme Court held a procedural hearing with the State after he failed to appear in court. The State demanded that the appeal be heard in his absence, claiming that his victims were being denied justice. When passing judgement, the State requested that the court strike a balance between the interests of the defendant and the rights of the victims.
The court told that the right to be present is a civil right, and it can only be limited by legislation passed by Parliament. In addition, the court noted that the State failed to mention any Parliamentary legislation authorizing the case to be heard in absentia.
According to the court, limiting the right to be present at a trial by the application of legal provisions is unconstitutional, much like restricting other constitutional rights.
The State argued that Ali Waheed forfeited his right to be present by failing to appear despite knowing that his presence was expected.
The court stated that the difference between a situation where a defendant may be prosecuted in his absence and a situation where a defendant has the constitutional right to obtain legal counsel, defend himself, and address the case with the lawyer of his choosing is incomparable. The right to be present at a trial isn’t an “option,” according to the court, and it can’t be restricted.
Justice Mahaz Ali Zahir, Justice Azmiralda Zahir, and Justice Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim, who presided over the case, unanimously decided that the case should not be heard in absentia.