Normally, I’m not one to advocate for infringements on judicial independence. However, one of the biggest mistakes with Indonesia’s reformasi period was to give judges independence without accountability, arguable entrenching judicial corruption up to the present day.
In that light, I’m glad to see that Myanmar’s parliament (Hluttaw) has formed a committee to review and assess controversial judicial verdicts. According to two Myanmar Times articles (here and here), the Pyithu Hluttaw Judicial and Legislative Committee has invited defendants who believe their case was decided unfairly to submit complaints. The committee can then request the court to reassess the case.
The committee asks for “irrefutable evidence” of bias, which on its face sounds like an impossible standard. Yet, according to committee chairman Thura U Aung Ko, of the 100 complaints received 69 have been granted. This is not only a high rate of success, but also a clear and bold condemnation of the judicial system, arguable one of the least independent in the world.
Usually, when Myanmar’s leaders talked about judicial reform, it was in the context of cracking down on corruption. This is the first time I can recall when the discussion has seriously turned to independence and impartiality. It’s definitely an encouraging sign. However, judicial reform is a long process and it’s not yet clear to me that it’s getting the attention it deserves. In particular, we’ll need to see more efforts to retrain or even replace current judges with fresh blood.