Category Archives: judicial reform

Rushing towards reform? (Indonesia)

It’s no secret that Indonesia’s legislature, the DPR, takes a long time to pass laws. As such, in the wake of Akil Mochtar’s arrest three weeks ago, one could perhaps sympathize with President SBY’s latest attempt to impose stronger judicial ethics requirements on the Mahkamah Konstitusi by executive decree (perppu). The decree calls for an ethics council composed of members of the Judicial Commission and the MK. The decree would also prohibit anybody who had been a member of a political party during the previous 7 years from serving on the court.

However, the president’s executive decree powers are limited to responding to immediate crises – . A group of lawyers has challenged the constitutionality of the perppu before, ironically enough, the MK. According to The Jakarta Post, the lawyers have lined up the support of key stakeholders, including former chief justice Jimly Asshiddiqie and law professor Yusril Ihza Mahendra. Former chief justice Mahfud MD has also stated his opposition to the president’s plan, remarking that such a response would be necessary for nearly every government institution in Indonesia.

There are two key questions that will likely arise from this case. First, will the court exercise constitutional review over a presidential regulation? Technically, the MK’s constitutional jurisdiction covers statutes (undang-undang), not regulations. The Supreme Court does have jurisdiction over regulations but has hesitated to exercise that power. However, the legal grounds might be “fudged” here if the petitioners successfully argue that the president did indeed attempt to promulgate a statute through executive means.

Even if the petition passes the jurisdictional threshold, it is unclear if it would succeed on the merits. On the one hand, the MK knows it needs to institute some mechanism to enforce ethical duties on judges. On the other, the justices have formally stated that the Judicial Commission (KY) has no ability to enforce ethical rules on MK justices. In 2006, the MK stripped the KY of any power to enforce ethical requirements on Supreme Court justices (Case No. 005/PUU-IV/2006 ). In fact, the justices even went out of their way to clarify that the KY also had no power over MK justices, even though that part of their decision was obviously dicta. Last week, Deputy Chief Justice Hamdan Zoelva has already announced that the MK would proceed with its own plans to establish an ethics commission, without the KY’s involvement.

Because of the nature of this suit, because the petitioners are challenging a perppu and not undang-undang, it will be particularly difficult for the MK to do what it did in 2011, invalidating the DPR’s attempt to circumscribe the MK’s power to issue ultra petita verdicts. If the MK goes out of its way to invalidate a perppu, critics could portray it as being resistant to the need for reform and then propose even tougher measures. However, the perppu is clearly at odds with how the MK thinks it needs to respond to this crisis. Either way, I imagine this case will be expedited so we should know the verdict soon.

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Filed under corruption, indonesia, judicial commission, judicial reform, Mahfud, Mahkamah Konstitusi, SBY

Pay for performance? (Indonesia)

Indonesia’s government has increased raised judicial salaries in an attempt to combat corruption. According to The Jakarta Post, salaries had been set at Rp 1.8 million to Rp 4.5 million ($186 to $465) per month, but will rise to Rp. 10.5-45 million (approx. $1,086-4,657) per month, a tenfold increase. Perhaps even more surprisingly, this makes Indonesian judges amongst the highest paid in Asia (Singapore’s are the highest overall).

The Supreme Court has stated its hope that this move will reduce corruption within the judiciary. The logic goes that judges will be less tempted to accept bribes. However, there is little empirical evidence that simply increasing the salaries of public servants decreases corruption. To some extent, public officials will not need to resort to corruption in order to survive. However, plenty of corrupt officials have continued engaging in corruption even after becoming rich. Suharto reaped billions, thousands of times what he would have needed to live a comfortable lifestyle. Cross-national research on corruption is notoriously unreliable (for a review of the literature, see Treisman (2007)).
Overall, this is an encouraging move. It’s hard to imagine any significant downsides to increasing judicial salaries. Even if it doesn’t reduce corruption overnight, it might make the judiciary a more attractive career for the best and brightest lawyers.

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Filed under corruption, indonesia, judicial reform

JC vs. SC redux (Indonesia)

A few weeks ago, I’d mentioned that Palembang District Court Judge Daming Sanusi was criticized for having made an impolitic joke about rape during his “fit and proper test” before the DPR. Daming has since withdrawn his candidacy but the Judicial Commission has announced its desire for the Supreme Court to try him for ethics violations. According to The Jakarta Post, the Supreme Court has refused, stating that Daming has already issued a “sincere apology.”

The Commission is continuing its campaign, but, because of the Constitutional Court decision in 2006, it lacks the power to enforce ethics standards and prosecute judges itself. There are no constitutional issues at stake in the current dispute between the JC and SC thus far, but the dispute is important as a sign of whether and how Indonesia can deal with wayward judges. Given the public outrage over the incident, it’s possible the JC can mobilize public opinion on its behalf.

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Filed under ethics, indonesia, judicial commission, judicial reform

Contempt of court bill (Myanmar/Burma)

According to The New Light of Myanmar, the Pyithu Hluttaw passed a contempt of court bill. Unfortunately, no details yet.

Contempt of Court Bill passed for freedom of jurisdiction and public trust in judicature

Nay Pyi Taw, 28 Jan- The Pyithu Hluttaw passed the Contempt of Court Bill at today’s session to ensure freedom of jurisdiction, and public trust in judicature.

Daw Khin Than Myint of Ngaputaw Constituency as regards the bill suggested that legislations which should be known by the general public should be explained widely to the public in simple and comprehensible terms.

As regards the question about if there is any plan to retire the government staff members who have reached 60 so as to give promotion to experienced and skilled staff in respective government institutions, Union Minister at the President Office U Soe Maung replied that some those who have reached 60 were assigned as advisors according to work requirements.

If there are government staff members to be assigned as advisors, it is required to submit to the President Office and the approval is subject to decision of cabinet meeting.

Some of the major reasons behind such appointment are incompetency of the potential substitute and the superior’s lack of confidence in potential substitute’s performance.

In some ministries, a government official is trained to take the duties of higher positions, two levels higher in echelon as well as lower positions, two levels lower in echelon. He suggested that every staff member is to continuously try to perform the assigned duties efficiently.

Quality determines the position, especially those to be promoted to higher positions in technical field are to always try to meet the demands. There will be places for deserving young blood. In the future, those who have reached 60 would not be appointed as advisor but technician, concluded the Union Minister. The questioner U Aye Mauk said if they are appointed as technician and not as advisor, there would be vacancies for the qualified ones, calling for legislation of it if necessary.

U Thein Nyunt of Thingangyun Constituency submitted a proposal urging the Union government to consider the existing rates of court fee and stamp fee adjusted depending on Notification Nos. 122/2012 and 123/2012 of the Finance and Revenue Ministry on adjustment of court fee and stamp fee rates and Legislation Nos. 3 and 5 of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw which amend the court fee and tax fee laws.

Deputy Minister for Finance and Revenue Dr Lin Aung replied that the rates were adjusted in line with the changing conditions and asked to document the proposal.The proposer agreed his suggestion and the Hluttaw decided to document the proposal. The tenth day session continues tomorrow.-MNA

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Failing judges (Indonesia)

The Judicial Commission announced the results of its review of judicial profession, and its findings are not encouraging. According to The Jakarta Post, 70-80% of judges had not applied judicial procedures properly.

However, the report is a bit confusing in that is critiques judges for applying procedural rather than substantive justice standards. I heard similar complaints from colleagues in Indonesia, particularly when wealthy defendants received light punishments for large crimes and poor defendants were sentences harshly for trivial offenses. Still, it’s not clear how giving judges more discretion under a substantive justice standard ameliorates this problem. If anything, it might increase opportunities for corruption.

The KY also revealed that complaints fell from 1,710 in 2011 to 1,482 in 2012, and that more judges were being punished.

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Filed under ethics, indonesia, judicial commission, judicial reform, legal profession

Reset the Indonesian judiciary? (Indonesia)

Constitutional Court Chief Justice Mahfud MD certainly has developed a reputation for making controversial statements. However, his recent proposal for judicial reform might be his most controversial yet. According to The Jakarta Post, in a recent speech, he advocated firing all enforcement officers and replacing them. His logic is that the only way to break the networks of corruption is to fill judicial institutions with individuals not plugged into the networks.

I actually don’t know of any country that has pursued such a drastic strategy. Pak Mahfud’s logic is sound, but I’d be shocked if Indonesia’s political elite agreed to it. However, if Pak Mahfud himself becomes a vice presidential candidate in 2014, he might have more opportunities to push his proposals.

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Filed under indonesia, judicial reform, Mahkamah Konstitusi

First signs of judicial reform in Myanmar? (Myanmar/Burma)

As I’ve said for a while now, I’ve been a bit worried that, despite the rhetoric, we have yet to see any concrete proposals for judicial reform in Myanmar. Now, according to The Irrawaddy, the Hluttaw Rule of Law Committee is inspecting conditions in Yangon courts. According to New Democracy Party MP Thein Nyunt, the committee will propose draft legislation on judicial reform by the end of October. While that seems optimistic given how long it’s taken to pass the foreign investment law, it is encouraging to see signs of tangible movement.

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Filed under Burma, judicial reform, Myanmar