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Indian Ocean Transparency

The Times: English Barristers Criticised over Seychelles ‘Show Trial’

Senior London barristers allege that due process has been breached in the Seychelles
Senior London barristers allege that due process has been breached in the Seychelles

Senior London barristers are embroiled in a row over “a politically motivated prosecution” that has allegedly breached due process in the Seychelles.

The family of two defendants who are accused of corruption and weapons charges on the Indian Ocean island have expressed “distress” that one of the prosecution lawyers is a QC from a prominent human rights chambers.

Stephen Powles QC, a tenant at Doughty Street, has been instructed by the Seychelles government jointly to lead the prosecution against nine defendants who are associated with or related to France Albert René, the country’s former resident, who died aged 83 in 2019.

René had stepped down in 2004, but his party remained in power until 2020, when it lost elections for the first time in 43 years to a party led by Wavel Ramkalawan, the present leader.

Powles is joined on the prosecution side by Edmund Vickers QC of Red Lion Chambers and two junior barristers from London sets. The defendants include Mukesh Valabhji and his wife, Laura. Valabhji, a former senior figure at the Seychelles Marketing Board, and his wife have been accused of conspiracy to launder money and possession of weapons. The pair deny all of the charges. Their lawyers, based in London at the law firm Kobre & Kim, claim that the authorities have committed “numerous abuses of procedure and of the defendants’ rights”. The lawyers allege that the pair have been unlawfully detained for six months and refused bail “without charge or trial, despite the defendants representing no threat or flight risk”. They claim that the Seychelles government retrospectively amended corruption laws to give the prosecution new powers. The legal team argues that the anti-corruption commission of the Seychelles (ACCS), a prosecution body, ultimately acknowledged that it lacked the authority to bring charges against the defendants. However, Jason Masimore, a partner at Kobre & Kim, says that the court “refused to dismiss the charges so that the government could pass new laws in favour of the ACCS”.

He adds: “This act of judicial overreach highlights concerns we have raised that there is no separation of powers between the judiciary and government.” He says that the “politically motivated show trial continues to lack any credible evidence of wrongdoing by the accused and contains a complete absence of due process”.

There are no suggestions that Powles and the other London lawyers acting for the prosecution have behaved unlawfully or unethically.

However, one close family member of the couple says: “We are in despair and matters are made worse for us as we see that the prosecution is receiving help from two leading QCs from highly respected London chambers, one of which has always had a stellar reputation in the field of human rights.”

The case is the latest in which English barristers have faced criticism for acting for overseas governments that have what some consider to be poor records on human rights.

While human rights in the former British colony are widely considered to have improved, there has been a history of abuses since the island gained independence in 1976.

Last year, David Perry QC, a tenant at 6KBW College Hill chambers, was criticised after he was instructed to prosecute pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong. The silk eventually withdrew from the case.

In September Dinah Rose QC of Blackstone Chambers who is also the president of Magdalen College at Oxford University, was criticised by an LGBT student group for acting for the government of the Cayman Islands as it defended its ban on gay marriage in a Privy Council case.

Before this month’s Commonwealth heads of government meeting, the Valabhjis’ legal team aims to raise the case with Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC, who is the Commonwealth secretary-general and a former Labour attorney-general. The Valabhjis’ lawyers say that they have already raised concerns with the British Foreign Office.

The Seychelles authorities did not respond to a request for comment. Powles declined to comment as the case was ongoing.

Republished from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/english-barristers-criticised-over-seychelles-show-trial-vvvq0ntgp written by Jonathan Ames

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