Indonesia’s Supreme Court gets technical

While looking for a copy of an Indonesian statute, I came across news of an odd case in HukumOnline. Apparently, under the Indonesian Code of Criminal Procedure (“KUHAP”) Article 263(1), only convicts or their heirs can seek a judicial review of their conviction. In Taswin Zein, the Supreme Court recently rejected an appeal from a Department of Labor and Transmigration official convicted of corruption because his lawyer filed the appeal on his behalf. Of course, for American lawyers, that outcome is unimaginable – we tend to assume that laypeople wouldn’t know how to file a pro se appeal. However, beyond this obvious fact, two things struck me about this case.

First, there seems to be a growing debate within the Supreme Court over whether to interpret a statute strictly or loosely. In other words, should the law be applied facially even when it results in a perverse outcome, or should it be reinterpreted to fit current norms of justice? This is a question that plagues any court that engages in any legal interpretation (that is, almost all of them).

According to the HukumOnline article, courts had tended to interpret such laws in a relatively relaxed manner. Now, there is more support for a strictly technical approach. I’d be curious to learn the reasons behind this shift. Indeed, the provision in question in the Taswin Zein case seems to be of the worst kind of legal technicality – the one that makes people hate lawyers. However, Justice Krisna Harahap did provide one plausible explanation in support of a purely facial reading of KUHAP § 263(1):

Many convicts… are convicted whilst being fugitives in other countries… if an attorney could file a case review for such convicted fugitives, it would be tantamount to a luxury extended to corruptors by the justice system.

I’ll leave it up to the Indonesian lawyers to resolve this legal debate. I do wonder though if it will eventually evolve into philosophical divisions of the kind we see in U.S. jurisprudence, like originalism or active liberty or purposivism, that construct legal theories justifying approaches to legal interpretation.

Another thing I noticed is that the HukumOnline article addresses the Indonesian Supreme Court justices as “Mr.” Supreme Court Chief Justice Harifin Tumpa is referred to as Mr. Tumpa. This seems to be a basic breach of protocol. It could well be a cultural difference, but I don’t ever recall seeing Indonesian justices referred to as “Mr.” before. Rather odd…

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