Tue, 14 May 2002

Stern ethics key to improve advocate profession: Magnis

A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Advocates' neglect of their code of ethics, compounded with different codes of ethics that belong to various bar associations, are being blamed as the source of rampant legal malfeasance in the country.

Enforcement of a code of ethics is badly needed to promote order in the advocate profession, a profession which has served as one of the pillars in the work of this country's law system, said experts.

"The rampant malfeasance by advocates represents a portrayal that our society is indeed corrupt. The code of ethics has merely become window-dressing, which is rarely obeyed by the advocates," ethics expert Franz Magnis Suseno told The Jakarta Post.

Franz-Magnis Suseno, a senior lecturer at the Driyarkara Institute of Philosophy, was commenting on the damaged image of lawyers before society, in which bribery, extortion and document forgery are seen as common practice in the country.

The recent case of Elza Syarief, a lawyer arrested by city police last week for allegedly bribing two witnesses to lie in court, has captured the public's attention and at the same time raised concern over the profession.

Elza was found guilty of violating ethics by the Indonesian Advocate and Lawyer Association (HAPI) on Monday, for persuading two witnesses for the benefit of her client, Hutomo Mandala Putra, the youngest son of former president Soeharto.

The sanction handed down to Elza was "a stern warning".

The neglect of the code of ethics is amplified by the fact that the advocates are grouped into eight different bar associations.

Worse yet, the eight bar associations each have their own code of ethics.

The problem generated by this phenomenon is clear: The advocate is eager to seek a lenient code of ethics for the benefit of their own.

To promote order in the profession, the creation of a uniform code of ethics for all bar associations must be initiated, and then its stern enforcement must be pursued.

Legislator J.E. Sahetapy opined that such a uniform code of ethics for advocates would play a strategic role in promoting order in the advocate profession, which has played a pivotal role in the enforcement of the law in the country.

Most of all, such a code of ethics must be in place. Advocates may not practice without adhering to a code of ethics because their profession gives them a monopolistic position before the public.

As ethics observer Michael J. Stankey put it, "The code of ethics serves to protect society from the unscrupulous behavior of practitioners, and acts as a device through which such practitioners can be banished from the profession."

In that light, Sahetapy therefore said that the code of ethics would serve as guidance and rule the morality of lawyers as they continue in their profession.

Judging from its importance to promote order in the profession, the enforcement of a code of ethics is a must.

Sahetapy, a professor in law and a member of the National Law Commission (KHN), said that the sanction for lawyers who breached the code of ethics must be stiff.

"This stiff sanction would serve as a deterrence to other lawyers not to attempt acts that violate the code of ethics in the future," Sahetapy, a legislator from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), told the Post.

Meanwhile, it is refreshing that there is an increasing awareness about the importance of a single code of ethics for local advocates.

Sudjono, the chairman of the Indonesian Bar Association (Ikadin), said that his organization was given a mandate by other bar associations to draft a single code of ethics.

Only then will those found guilty of breaching the code of ethics be banished by their peers as well as the public, allowing people to hope that advocates will contribute to upholding the law in this country.