Judicial Corruption Inquiry (Myanmar/Burma)

It seems once more the Hluttaw is moving to reform Myanmar’s justice sector where the judges themselves cannot or will not. According to Irrawaddy, the Judicial Committee, formed last September, has already received 500 complaints from citizens about the abuse in the courts. On Tuesday, the lower house (Pyithu Hluttaw) passed a law granting the committee with the power to investigate these complaints.

We also got an interesting glimmer into the relationship between the judiciary and parliament. While not quite as testy as that between the Philippine Congress and Supreme Court (see here), it’s clear the Myanmar Supreme Court doesn’t entirely welcome the Hluttaw’s proposal. According to Irrawaddy:

Thein Nyunt, a respected MP and lawyer, said, “I rejected the presentation of the Union Supreme Court Judge which could undermine the core meaning of the [investigation powers] proposal, and all the MPs supported my views.”

As I’ve mentioned before, I think the Hluttaw is taking the right approach. It’s important to reform the courts before granting them independence. However, from the proposal currently on the table, it appears the Judicial Commission will focus on “naming and shaming” judges, but will lack enforcement powers. This can still be quite effective if done right. Singapore is infamous for using public humiliation as a punishment.

However, it’s not clear this strategy will work without a free media. In one of the few articles to look at judicial accountability, Stefan Voigt (2008) argues that media freedom encourages judicial accountability by exposing corrupt practices in court. With a free media and open hearings, journalists can sit in on cases and report on the progress of the case. While Myanmar’s media is becoming freer, it isn’t quite yet free enough, particularly for journalists to report on big judicial corruption cases. Also, a free press will be needed to press the Judicial Commission on its investigations and make the guardian of the guardians accountable.

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