Tue, 04 Feb 2003

House seeks single association, one code of ethics for lawyers

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Legislators are seeking to establish a single bar association for Indonesian lawyers in the advocate bill currently under deliberation at the House of Representatives.

With only one bar association, the lawmakers said, the advocate code of ethics, as well as punishment for lawyers committing professional crimes, would be enforced effectively.

"Under the present situation where there are many advocate associations, many lawyers can commit professional crimes freely, without fear of being disbarred, as they can move from one association to another to escape penalization," Muhammad Akil Mochtar of Golkar Party told the Jakarta Post on Monday.

At present, there are several advocate associations in the country, including the Indonesian Advocate Association (AAI), the Indonesian Bar Association (Ikadin), and the Indonesian Legal Advisor Association (IPHI). Each association possesses its own code of ethics.

The advocate bill does not mention the establishment of a single lawyers' association, but legislators said Monday that they would pursue the proposal.

Legislators Tumbu Saraswati of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) agreed with Akil, but said that there must be a platform to unite the extant lawyers' associations.

"We need such a platform, particularly to uphold the professional code of ethics and to penalize lawyers who commit violations," she said.

"At present, lawyers can offer bribes arbitrarily, but if they are caught, they won't face any professional penalties and will be able to continue in their profession."

Akil said the bill would also oblige lawyers to provide legal counsel on a pro bono basis to people in litigation who could not afford a lawyer.

However, the detailed mechanism would be regulated under a government regulation, he said.

"We agree that lawyers should provide free legal counsel, but the obligation would burden lawyers if they receive excessive demands for free counsel.

"Therefore, there must be a condition to avoid this scenario, for example, by distributing pro bono cases equally among all lawyers operating in the country," he said.

The bill also stipulates that while lawyers from foreign countries may work at local law firms, international law firms are not allowed to open representative offices in Indonesia.

Akil also said the advocate bill would not allow public officials, including legislators and government officials, to practice as lawyers during their tenure.

"The article (Article 19) that bans public officials from practicing as advocates has been approved. It is fair to impose it," he added, and said that the ban had eliminated the previous dynamic debates that demanded legislators be allowed to practice as lawyers.

He said the House had almost completed deliberating the bill, as about 24 out of 35 articles had already been approved.

"We are optimistic that deliberations will finish by Feb. 25, when we expect to endorse the bill," he said.

The legislators must still debate on the remaining articles, among which are articles on requirements for foreign advocates operating in Indonesia, and on Islamic Law.