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Defendant in Seychelles show trial continues to suffer procedural improprieties

  • English QC pressed for Laura Valabhji’s release on bail after 263 day imprisonment without trial as the Court seeks further delay

Today, leading English barrister James Lewis QC has presented the defence case at a critical bail appeal hearing which took place an extraordinary 263 days after they were first imprisoned. At the hearing, the Court of Appeal directed that a seemingly routine matter such as bail appeal should be reheard, once again seeking to delay and deter Laura Valabhji’s release on bail. In a striking example of ‘procedural double-hatting’, the Court has also directed the Attorney-General to appear in the case as a supposed impartial advisor, even though the same Attorney-General is already opposing Mrs Valabhji’s application in these proceedings.

Laura Valabhji, one of the defendants in the politically-motivated series of trials in the Seychelles, has been subject to a repeatedly unjust judicial process which has seen her access to proper legal advice restricted. 

In recent weeks, Laura Valabhji’s defence team was preparing ahead of a rescheduled bail appeal hearing on the 8 August 2022. The defence team had previously raised concerns over the persisting worrying developments which they say bear little resemblance to due process. 

The manner in which the case has been conducted is said to breach the Seychelles constitution and violate the Harare Declaration, 1991, which sets out core principles and values of Commonwealth states. The case also contravenes Article 7 of the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights which declares that “every individual shall have the right to have his cause heard”, and of which Seychelles is a signatory.

For a matter as routine as a bail hearing appeal, the Court of Appeal has taken the unusual step of insisting that the settled law in Seychelles regarding the right of appeal, which as it stands, is in firm favour of Mrs Valabhji, be reheard. One has to wonder, why such fundamental rights of appeal are now being thrown into question, at this time, for this particular case. The Court has directed the Attorney-General to appear as amicus curiae, as the supposed impartial advisor to the Court. This is remarkable given the same Attorney-General is appearing in the same hearing to oppose Mrs Valabhji’s application. The wearing of two hats by the Attorney-General in the same proceedings is unheard of.

Needless to say, respect for the rule of law is important for the defendants in what has been described as a landmark case. However, the legal principles that are being disregarded are also integral for the reputation of the Seychelles as a democratic state with a fair justice system.  

Having had all charges dropped by the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS), the Attorney-General continues to resist bail in relation to a weapons case that manifestly fails to address the evidence against Laura Valabhji. She vigorously denies any allegations.

Jason Masimore, London-based lawyer for international disputes and investigations firm Kobre & Kim who represents Laura Valabhji, said: 

“It is completely unacceptable that, after more than 260 days of imprisonment, Laura Valabhji, a woman of good character and strong ties within the Seychelles community, is yet to be granted bail in a case that has been plagued by mishandling and disregard for due process.

We are deeply concerned by the Court’s attempt to reverse course on its own settled law. Further, the appointment of the Attorney General’s amicus curiae is far from independent. Instead of setting out both sides of the argument, he has instead argued a position the effect of which would restrict the constitutional rights to bail for all Seychellois.

It is critical that the Court of Appeal remembers that bail is a constitutional right that has to date been denied to our client in the absence of any compelling grounds. This is also a breach of the Harare Declaration, 1991, and of Article 7 of the African Charter of Human People’s Rights. Compliance with these principles is integral to the reputation of the Seychelles as a democratic state.”