A series of court trials and legal prosecution of petty criminal cases involving underage children and mentally retarded people have been making headlines in national media lately.
The cases include the conviction of 15-year-old A.A.L. last week for stealing a police officer’s flip-flops by the Palu District Court in Central Sulawesi province, the recent detention of mentally disabled 22-year-old Kuatno and his 25-year-old friend, Topan, for allegedly stealing bunches of bananas and the latest case, the conviction of 15-year-old D.W. on Tuesday by the Denpasar District Court in Bali province for robbing a lady’s purse.
The prosecution of underage children — in Indonesia minors are those below 18 years of age — and of mentally disabled defendants is unlawful. The question is why does the criminalization of underage children and mentally retarded persons continuously occur?
The decision of the nation’s law-enforcement authorities — the Supreme Court, the Law and Human Rights Ministry, the Attorney General’s Office and the National Police — to activate the joint secretariat of Mahkumjakpol — an acronym for the four law enforcement authorities — to “humanely” handle criminal cases that cannot be prosecuted for legal reasons is to a certain extent welcome, although there are more appropriate approaches to the matter.
The involvement of the joint secretariat will undoubtedly be fruitful, as it will reduce, if not eliminate and prevent, unlawful prosecutions.
The involvement of the joint secretariat, however, should only be meant as a temporary solution for the increasing number of such petty and legally unlawful cases. The secretariat’s activation is akin to a “crash program” to resolve these cases, which have drawn massive concern from the general public, who are longing for true implementation of the law and for justice to be upheld.
The secretariat, however, cannot be a permanent solution, as it does not properly address the problem of the unlawful prosecutions.
Those cases have reached court — the end of the legal dispute settlement mechanism — apparently due to a failure by the legal institutions to screen out such prosecutions and properly channel them to already existing mechanisms. For criminal cases involving minors and the mentally disabled, there are the mechanisms of mediation, counseling and other legally win-win settlement measures.
What law-enforcement institutions urgently need to do is to review and revise the screening mechanisms for criminal cases and disseminate information on the mechanisms to all relevant institutions nationwide so as to prevent the repetition of such practices.
From a broader perspective, the joint secretariat’s involvement in handling legal cases will be prone to abuse. The reason is none other than the membership of the secretariat itself. The fact that it includes representatives from the Law and Human Rights Ministry ensures the secretariat will not be free from government interest and political intervention. The country’s judiciary ideally should be free from the influence of any interests, particularly the government.
It is thus advisable to have the joint secretariat reviewed so as to truly establish interest- and intervention-free legal prosecutions and to ensure that justice is done by the country’s judiciary.