Tue, 21 Jan 2003

Judges inherent powers' source of injustice: Experts

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The inherent powers of judges in determining whether or not a convict has to serve his sentence immediately have become a source of injustice and therefore must be scrapped, legal experts say.

Rizqi S. Assegaff from the Institute for Research and Advocacy for Independent Courts (LeIP) and Asep Rahmat Fajar from the Indonesian Court Monitoring Society (MAPPI) suggested Monday that all those convicted should be sent to jail right away regardless of their social position or prison term.

"If someone is convicted, he or she must be sent to jail immediately. Consequently, the Criminal Code must be revised," Rizqi told The Jakarta Post here on Monday.

Asep concurred with Rizqi, but said that a practice direction from the Supreme Court (MA) would be sufficient to put the idea into effect.

Rizqi and Asep were commenting on the decision of the Jakarta High Court to uphold Akbar Tandjung's three-year jail sentence but its failure to send the House Speaker to jail.

Akbar, who is also the Golkar chairman, was sentenced to three years in jail in September 2002 for misappropriating Rp 40 billion from the State Logistics Agency (Bulog).

Analysts and public figures said earlier that the decision offended the people's sense of justice. The public had been expecting the Jakarta High Court to send Akbar to jail right away.

The Jakarta High Court upheld the verdicts and doubled the sentences of Akbar's accomplices Winfried Simatupang and Dadang Ruskandar to three years each.

A corruption conviction carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail.

Small-time embezzlers and petty thieves often receive longer jail sentences and have to serve their prison terms immediately.

The country's Criminal Code gives judges the inherent power to decide whether or not a convicted person has to go to jail immediately.

According to Rizqi, all convicted criminals should be sent to jail immediately and if a higher court overturned the verdict, the convict could be rehabilitated.

He added that the revision of the Criminal Code must be accompanied by improvements to the country's judicial system.

Rizqi said that improvements to the country's justice system could not be carried out piecemeal. "Reform of the judicial system is a prerequisite that must not be ignored," he added.

Asep, coordinator of MAPPI, suggested that a rule requiring judges to send a convicted defendant to jail right away could take the form of a practice direction issued by the Supreme Court, the country's highest judicial body.

"It will take time to revise the Criminal Code. Therefore, it would be better for Supreme Court to issue such a practice direction," Asep told the Post.

The direction, Asep added, would be effective during the transitional period leading up to the creation of a strong judicial system.

He said a strong judicial system would be marked by the existence of a judicial commission, improved judicial integrity and improved public monitoring.

Separately, political analyst Fachry Ali of the Institute for the Development of Social and Business Ethics (LPSEU) said that the Akbar issue was designed to distract public attention from the utility price hikes.

"It is politically organized to distract the public from protesting against the utility price hikes," Fachry told the Post.

He predicted that Akbar's loyal supporters would stop at nothing to try to save their leader.