New bill may threaten judicial transparency
The Jakarta Post
Legal activists on Sunday slammed a contempt of court draft bill for limiting reports on court proceedings and judges.
Under the draft bill, which according to various media outlets was initiated by the Indonesian Judges Association (IKAHI), those who publicize ongoing hearings or court proceedings in a way that 'tends to be able to influence the independence or does not side with judges in nature' face up to 10 years in prison or Rp 1 billion in fines.
Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) senior researcher Anggara blasted the bill, saying that it had no urgency and restricted the freedom of speech and mass media.
'Access for media to information could be limited and public criticism of judges will be deemed problematic. Such circumstances are unacceptable in this democratic country,' Anggara said. 'If the bill is passed, the judges will have limitless authority.'
The bill, he said, might have good intentions, namely to protect the judges' honor, but at the expense of fundamental democratic values.
'There are many other ways to keep [the judges'] stature and to improve public trust in our judicial system, one of which is transparency in every court decision,' Anggara said.
He went on to say that judges should publish every decision they make and explain briefly on what grounds they reached their verdict.
Anggara said the draft bill as proposed by IKAHI, which was supported by the Supreme Court, showed an intention of 'criminalizing people'.
The idea to introduce a contempt of court law is not new in the country, but concerns remain that such provisions would limit the monitoring role of the public and the media. Many believe the judiciary lacks transparency, and the involvement of judges in some recent bribery cases has stoked such concerns.
Just recently, IKAHI won a petition at the Constitutional Court that scrapped the Judicial Commission's role in the selection of judges for district courts, religious courts and state administrative courts. The ruling allows the Supreme Court to select judges without having to be accountable to other state bodies and leaves the Judicial Commission with authorities to only monitor judges and help maintain their credibility.
Choky Ramadhan from the University of Indonesia's Indonesian Judicial Watch Society (MAPPI) called for the provision penalizing those criticizing the courts and judges to be removed from the draft bill.
'Provisions that impede the public and the media in carrying out their monitoring role by penalizing them need to be scrapped,' Choky said. 'Criticism is essential to build a better judiciary in the country.'
However, IKAHI executive Suhadi, who is also a spokesman at the Supreme Court, claimed that IKAHI was merely playing a role of stakeholder in the scheme, saying that it only provided the House with input on the contempt of court issue following what Suhadi deemed as the need to protect the judges who presided over trials.
'Any initiative for deliberating a bill comes only either from the House or the government. In this case, we are merely a stakeholder that gives input related to a judge's role in a trial,' he said.
Although he underlined IKAHI's support for the contempt of court bill, Suhadi dismissed activists' concerns, saying the legal guideline was essential 'to ensure the safety and security of the judges' and that their concerns 'have no basis', since there were already 'provisions regulating the press in terms of forming responsible opinion'.
A number of violent protests have erupted during trials in the past, for example, during a blasphemy case trial in Temanggung, Central Java, in 2011 and an Ahmadiyah case trial in Cibinong, Bogor, in 2011. In late 2013, supporters of a plaintiff ran amok during a local election dispute hearing at the Constitutional Court, marking the first such incident in the Constitutional Court's history.
Contempt of court is, in fact, mentioned briefly in the Criminal Code (KUHP), while security for an ongoing trial is ensured by the 2009 Law on judicial authority.
According to Suhadi, the IKAHI's input focuses on how to protect judges from threats and harassment, instead. 'Forming an opinion [about a trial] is allowed, but don't create disorder or curse a judge during a trial,' he added.
Separately, Arsul Sani from the House of Representatives Commission III, which oversees legal affairs, human rights and security, said the public should not worry too much about the bill, as it would not be on the commission's 2016 priority list.
'We won't include it in our priorities. For next year, we have decided to focus on deliberating two laws only,' Arsul said, referring to the revision of Law No. 2/2002 on the National Police and the bill on judges.
Arsul, who is also a member of the House's, said the contempt of court bill would still be one of the National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) long-term targets.
However, he was of the opinion that the bill should be dropped, because the points stipulated in the bill were also stipulated in the revision to the KUHP, currently under discussion at the commission.
'Chapter six of the KUHP revision has around 39 articles about criminal acts in court. Thus, we actually don't need such a bill anymore,' Arsul said.
The United Development Party politician also said that the bill was unnecessary, because criminal acts in court were included in ordinary crime laws, thus required no particular law.
'Particular law is only for extraordinary crimes, such as corruption and terrorism,' he said. (foy)
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