Tue, 07 Nov 2000

Judges asked to use conscience in rulings

JAKARTA (JP): Legal experts agreed on Monday that Indonesian judges should have moral courage and conscience in issuing verdicts on criminal cases.

Satjipto Rahardjo, a law professor at the Semarang-based Diponegoro University in Central Java and his colleague from the University of Indonesia Loebby Loqman said the Indonesian judicial system, including the Supreme Court, had yet to make significant improvements to the system due to rigid existing laws and regulations.

Satjipto said it was hard for officials in the Indonesian legal system, which was still in transition, to abandon the ideas, thoughts and paradigm of the New Order which have been considered outdated.

"Most of the verdicts issued by the judges were based merely on the prevailing regulations. Therefore, misjudged rulings have led to dissatisfaction and disappointment," Satjipto told The Jakarta Post after addressing a panel discussion on "Applying Criminal Measures on Corruption and Banking Crimes in the Reform Era", jointly held by the Supreme Court and the University of Indonesia.

He suggested that a corporate culture be established in the Indonesian judicial system.

"It means judges, prosecutors and lawyers should not confront each other but join forces to make a judicial decision based on their conscience," Satjipto, who is also a member of the National Commission on Human Rights, said.

He said a verdict based on one's conscience indicated that the law was not a simple mathematical expression whose decision- making could be delegated to computers.

"The law and regulations are written legal products. However, justice can develop in the hands of the judges," he said.

Satjipto said establishing a corporate culture certainly needed behavioral and cultural changes as well as courage on the part of the Indonesian legal community.

"But, these are the costs they (legal community) all have to pay to regain the people's trust in the legal system," he said.

He cited that justices in the United States had the capability and courage to do such "experiments".

He quoted a statement of popular U.S. justice O.W. Holmes: "The life of the law has not been logic but experience".

They (American justices) could set aside the trias politica principles for the sake of the people's welfare, he said.

"So because of such a relation, the phrase 'government by the judiciary' was coined and U.S. justices are praised as qualified decision makers," he said.

Satjipto said Indonesian judges must combine intellect and professionalism.

"This will place judges above other intellectuals," he said.

Separately, Loebby Loqman said judicial institutions had full authority in making legal decisions.

"But, problems may appear when judges have to decide which comes first, justice or regulations.

"In my opinion, justice should be placed above regulations," Loebby said.

Loebby said, judges have often failed to uphold justice because they merely interpreted the laws and regulations when making decisions.

"Most of the regulations and laws have inadequate guidelines for the judges," he said.

He said insufficient explanations often led judges to make wrong decisions or abandon their conscience.

"A judge may just ignore the laws and regulations and refer to his conscience for the sake of justice," he said.

He said justice must be upheld by the judges with accountability to himself and to God. (01)