Sat, 03 Apr 2004

New system an additional headache for court

The country's highest judicial body, the Supreme Court, has been given more power with the March 31 transfer to the court of administrative and financial powers formerly belonging to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, along with the implementation of Law No. 4/2004 on judicial power and Law No. 5/2004 on the Supreme Court. These changes are expected to result in an independent judiciary that will eventually repair the great damage that has been done to its image. The Jakarta Post contributor T. Sima Gunawan spoke with lawyer Luhut Pangaribuan, chairman of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association, about these changes. The following is an excerpt of the interview.

Question: How do you see this new system?

Answer: It will give the Supreme Court a hard time. The Supreme Court so far has not been able to solve its own problems, so these new powers will put it into more trouble. Take the backlog of some 20,000 cases at the Supreme Court, for example. Don't just look at the number, but think about the consequences.

What are the consequences?

Due to the backlog, people have to wait a long time before the Supreme Court hears their case. And this has resulted in corruption. People have to pay in order to get information about their case; for example, information about whether their case has been registered or whether the Supreme Court has appointed justices to hear the case.

The Supreme Court fails to provide good public services. People do not know how long they will have to wait until the justices reach a decision in their case. There is no standard time. It may take years, maybe more than five years.

Are you saying there is no legal certainty?

Yes. There is a disparity. For example, one case can be immediately executed, but there are others that cannot.

That is only about administrative matters. You have not discussed the court's decisions themselves.

This is another concern. Judges often have different interpretations of the same laws. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Indonesia should have the same interpretation of laws so that there are not different verdicts for similar cases, for example, in corruption cases or other violations of the law, even though dissenting opinions are allowed.

How is it possible for justices to have different interpretations of the same laws?

There are two things. First, there is no intellectual process or group discussion at the Supreme Court, so they cannot have the same vision about the development of the law.

Second, there is the intervention of money. The new system is expected to make the Supreme Court independent from government intervention, but not from the intervention of money.

But the idea of a single judicial system was introduced by the Central Java branch of the Indonesian Judges Association in 1966, and many parties have voiced support for the idea.

The idea has been implemented without preparation; this is a reactive move. Look at what is happening now. We don't rely on any system (in the Supreme Court), but on the people. There is, in fact, no system (of monitoring) the Supreme Court.

Corruption in the Supreme Court is not new. Is there any way to deal with this?

Anyone can appeal to the Supreme Court, regardless of the nature of their case. The Supreme Court should become selective in accepting cases. They should deal with laws only, not facts. They should only decide cases that will later become part of jurisprudence.

Could you give an example?

In the 1950s, the Supreme Court issued a decision saying that both Batak men and women have an equal right to inheritance. According to Batak customary law, only the men had the right to inheritance. The Supreme Court's decision became jurisprudence and was used in similar cases, not only among the Bataks but also other ethnic groups.

If the Supreme Court accepts any and all cases, even if they increase the number of justices (from 51) to 60, as mentioned in the new law, or even up to 100, this will not solve the problem.

The United States only has nine Supreme Court justices. Sweden also has a small number of justices, but they are doing well because they only deal with laws.

In the meantime, what can be done to eliminate corruption in the Supreme Court?

I wish they (Supreme Court justices) were angels -- immaculate, a great deal of integrity, and the intention to do good things. Everything should start from themselves.

What about the role of lawyers, who often offer bribes to the justices?

It is true, many lawyers bribe judges. But it depends on the judges to accept or refuse the bribes. A new law on the establishment of a judicial commission is being drafted. The commission will select candidates for the Supreme Court and then supervise them, but currently no body controls the court. So everything depends on the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court performed its role better in the 1950s and 1960s. So, how did it get to this?

We used to have a better government. The current situation is also the result of the political process, which produced rulers but not leaders.

Things will improve if we get political leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Lee Kuan Yew or Mahathir Mohamad. They were clean, capable and were supported by the people.

It is not easy to find a person of such character, but I believe there are people like that out there.

Unfortunately, none of our presidential candidates are like that.