Mon, 15 Dec 2003

Observer slams new Supreme Court justices criteria

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The new requirement criteria for Supreme Court judges, which limits chances for non-career judges, is a setback to the country's ongoing attempts to develop a clean judiciary, an observer says.

Asep Rahmat Fajar of the Coalition of Judiciary Observers (KPP) said on Saturday that few non-judges would be eligible to sit on the Supreme Court.

"It's a very difficult requirement. The House's decision shows that they only seek experienced judges, and not those with high personal integrity," Asep told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

Legislators deliberating the Supreme Court bill have agreed that lawyers or law lecturers aspiring to become Supreme Court judges must have worked for 25 consecutive years in that profession and possess a master's degree in law studies.

Legislator Sjaiful Rachman of the House's Commission II on legal and home affairs said on Saturday that lawmakers had already deliberated articles on the requirements in the Supreme Court bill.

Since 2000, legislators have opened the door for non-judges to become Supreme Court judges in a bid to develop a more independent and clean judiciary.

It is common knowledge that many judges are part of the judiciary mafia, which has created a corrupt judiciary in the country.

Lawyers or law lecturers with at least 15 years experience were allowed to apply to sit on the Supreme Court. In 2003, however, legislators required non-career Supreme Court judge candidates to have law diploma, have worked for 15 consecutive years in the legal field, and have specific expertise in selected areas.

Meanwhile, legislators have eased requirements for career judges to become Supreme Court judges. From 2001 through 2003, the House insisted on using law No. 14/1985, which stipulates that career judges wishing to become Supreme Court judges must have worked as judges for 15 years and have led a high court for five years.

In the Supreme Court bill currently deliberated by the House, however, legislators have lowered the requirements to 17 years as judges in any court and three years in a high court, either as the chief or a member.

Asep said the House must focus on the recruitment process to net aspirants with high integrity, the most important thing to clean up the courts.

"The House's purpose of welcoming non-judges into the court was to gain public trust. Therefore, they must realize that career judges have an unfavorable reputation among the people. Do not base the requirements on the length of working experience of the aspirants," he said.

Sjaiful, however, insisted the new requirements would net more capable judges.

"We need qualified judges," he said, without elaborating.

Earlier, observers lashed out at the House for failing to set aside their political interests in the selection of Supreme Court judges.

The third amendment of the 1945 Constitution in 2001 calls for the establishment of a Judicial Commission to handle the recruitment of Supreme Court judges and Constitutional Court judges. However, the House has yet to finish deliberating the bill on Judicial Commission.