Secret testimony allowed in criminal proceedings: Supreme Court

Secret testimony allowed in criminal proceedings: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court, on Sunday, in overruling a High Court verdict that asserted secret testimonies to be unlawful, clarified that testimony given anonymously was permissible in the case of criminal proceedings.

In 2019, following the nullification of the one year and six-month prison sentence against former Prosecutor General Abdulla Saeed, over refusing to submit his phone as evidence, the High Court ruled that the Criminal Procedure Code did not permit anonymous testimonies.

Article 149 of the Criminal Procedure Code states that anonymous testimonies can only be accepted under the circumstances noted under the Evidence Act. The High Court's verdict stated that the Evidence Act did not include any mention of secret testimony.

The High Court's ruling was subsequently appealed by the state, claiming that obstacle lay in High Court’s interpretation of the aforementioned provision.

According to the Supreme Court, however, the aforementioned ruling to not allow secret testimony stands in violation to the existing remedies defined by Criminal Procedure Code and may infringe on the legal rights of witnesses, thereby interfering with a fair trial process.

Declaring that the High Court's interpretation of the Criminal Procedure Code did not serve its objectives, the apex court added that Maldives' courts must decide on whether secret testimony may be admitted based on guidelines used in the courts of other democratic nations, including provisions on voice alteration or other measures to maintain anonymity.

The Supreme Court further moved to highlight that, as per the constitution, no court may use the absence of a law to justify the withholding of any fundamental right.

Legalese misconstrued by Lawmakers

Proclaiming that with respect to drafting of the law, the parliament itself was in err, the Supreme Court referred to the iteration of certain rules present in section 149 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 39 years after the evidence bill became law.

The Supreme Court reiterated that such issues could be rectified by the courts, based on precedents set by judicial systems in other countries.

Pointing out that courts in foreign countries had identified similar issues and later reinterpreted laws as necessary, the apex court stated that the purpose of such interventions was to prevent a loss of rights caused by legislators misunderstanding the usage of an uncommon word or phrase present within a law.

Despite acknowledging that interventions served to prevent parliamentary misunderstandings from interfering with the function of the law, the Supreme Court's verdict noted that court-provided solutions could not entail changes to legislation.

Citing the above, the bench drew attention to the fact that permanent solutions could only be implemented by the parliament via amending relevant legislation.

The appeal lodged over the issue of secret testimony was presided over by Judge Mahaz Ali Zahir, Judge Dr Azmiralda Zahir and Judge Aisha Shujune.