A foreigner’s guide to commencing civil legal action in Maldives – a brief overview of the filing process

As part of our everyday life, disputes and conflicts are unavoidable. A dispute can arise from countless number of scenarios ranging from workplace, general commutes or even while engaged in the most unsuspecting everyday activity. Many of these disputes are usually resolved without the thought of involving courts or lawyers ever crossing our minds. In fact, a sizeable chunk of those disputes could be resolved amicably by negotiation and coming to a settlement. But what happens when you cannot resolve a dispute? 

You are left with the choice of either to give up or to take the matter to court… In this article is intended to provide some basic answers to questions relating to filing a civil claim in Maldives.

What is a civil claim in Maldives?

A civil claim (or a civil litigation) is a case filed before a court of law in Maldives by a private individual or an entity against another private individual or entity and which does not include any form of criminal accusation.

A civil claim may cover a very wide range of matters such as business and corporate disputes, employment, personal injury and family matters amongst others. Unlike criminal prosecutions, which is initiated by the state through the Prosecutor General’s Office, a civil claim is almost always initiated by parties in their individual capacities.

Who may file a civil claim in Maldives?

Any person who is a party to a dispute, or has a substantial interest in the dispute, may file a civil claim before a court of law. There are generally no limitation for a non-Maldivian persons in bringing a civil claim in Maldives.

However, exceptions to a limited instances exist as a result of operation of law.  For example, land ownership in the Maldives is exclusive to Maldivian citizens. Under the Maldives Land Act, any transaction involving a land, such as sale, transfer or conveyance of land, must be carried out through the Maldivian courts. This means a non-Maldivian may not bring a claim or be a party to a claim involving transfer of a land title in Maldives.

Which court in Maldives should I file the claim?

Under the Maldives Civil Procedure Act, a claim should be filed before a first-instance court having jurisdiction to hear civil claims in Maldives.  

A first-instance court is a court which has original jurisdiction (i.e. the right to hear cases) on the first instance. In Maldives, primary first-instance courts include all Superior Courts—which are courts based in capital Male’ Region— and all of the Magistrate Courts. Each inhabited island of Maldives has one Magistrate Court.

In the capital Male’ Region, the Civil Court (a superior court) has the original jurisdiction to hear civil claims except family matters and employment matters.

The Family Court has the original jurisdiction to hear family matters such as divorce, child custody and child care support etc.

The Employment Tribunal has the original jurisdiction to hear employment matters except for certain types of employment cases which, by way of a special legislation(s), gives the original jurisdiction to the Civil Court.

In case of other islands of Maldives, the Magistrate Court of that respective island has the original jurisdiction to hear all civil claims that fall within the court’s territorial jurisdiction (i.e. the territory of the island which that court is based in).

Generally a civil claim in Maldives must be filed in the court of the same area/territory which the respondent generally resides.  There are, although, exceptions to this general rule.

For example, if the nature of the dispute is that of a contractual dispute, a court in the area where the fundamental obligations take place shall have the jurisdiction to hear the dispute.

Another exception is in case where a civil claim is related to a negligent act where, the court in the area in which the negligent act had taken place shall have the original jurisdiction to hear the dispute.

To summarize, unless there is an exception granted under the Civil Procedure Act or by any other legislation, generally a civil claim in Maldives should be filed before a first-instance court in the same area which the respondent generally resides in.

How do I file a civil claim in Maldives?

Every civil claim in Maldives begins by filing the appropriate claim form before a competent court of law and, when the Court accepts the form. The process of the court accepting and registering the claim may take some time between one to two weeks’ time.

This is because the Court will need to verify a number of matters in respect to each claim as set out under the Civil Procedure Act.

In addition to details required to be completed in the claim form, generally a claimant will also be required to provide the contact details of the respondent(s).

If there are errors found in the claim form or, if there are any corrections to be made, this may take even longer as the Court will accept the claim after all such alterations and corrections are made and refiled.

Do I need a lawyer in Maldives to file a claim?

The official language of proceedings in all courts of Maldives is native Dhivehi language. While it is not a prerequisite for a claimant (or even a respondent) to appoint a lawyer, it is always advised to have legal representation or have a lawyer hired to represent you.

For non-Maldivians, it is impractical to appear in person given the language barrier. Therefore it is strongly recommended for non-Maldivians who wish to file a civil claim in Maldives to appoint a lawyer or a law firm in Maldives from the outset, whether to file or defend a claim.



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