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Jakarta Post

Government bemoans lack of environmental expertise in justice system

  • Yulia Savitri and A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil

    The Jakarta Post

Palembang/Jakarta   /   Wed, March 18, 2020   /   03:47 pm
Government bemoans lack of environmental expertise in justice system Man-made disaster – A photo journalist attempts to avoid thick smoke from burning scrub as he covers land fires in Pekanbaru, Riau, on Jan.11. (Antara/Rony Muharrman)

The Environment and Forestry Ministry has complained that a lack of certification in environmental matters among judges remains one of the biggest obstacles to law enforcement in environmental damage cases, including those involving land and forest fires.

Since 2011 the Supreme Court has carried out annual training modules for judges to get environmental expertise certification, as concern for the environment grows.

“Gakkum Karhutla [the Land and Forest Fires Law Enforcement Division] was only formed in 2016. One of our biggest challenges to this day is our limited enforcement capacity,” said Rasio Ridho Sani, the ministry’s law enforcement division head, during a recent discussion in Palembang, South Sumatra.

According to 2018 data from the Supreme Court, there are currently 3,846 active justices across the country. Court spokesperson Andi Samsan Nganro said that only 858 judges had environmental expertise certification, although he insisted more would come.

“Every year the Supreme Court education center [Pusdiklat] conducts training for environmental certification. In June this year we will train 80 more judges,” Samsan told The Jakarta Post.

Cases with an environmental component must be presided over by a judge certified by the Supreme Court, according to Chief Justice Decree No. 134/2011.

But in the event a judge with the corresponding expertise is not available, court proceedings for environmental cases must be supervised and verdicts must be made by the head of the court, based on Decree No. 36/2015.

The measures in place aim to cut down on the number of mistrials or wrongful convictions in environmental cases, which can often become politically charged.

Rasio pointed to the example of a civil lawsuit that the ministry filed against PT Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH) at the Palembang District Court relating to forest fires in the area in 2016.

The district court acquitted the company but the Palembang High Court later nullified the verdict, forcing the company to pay Rp 78.5 billion (US$5.16 million) in damages to the government and this underscored the need for certified judges, he said.

Between 2015 and 2020, the ministry filed 26 civil lawsuits on environmental matters, including four against South Sumatra-based corporations: PT BMH, PT Waringin Agro Jaya (WAJ), PT Waimusi Agroindah (WA) and PT Rambang Agro Jaya (RAJ).

Of the four cases, three reached a final and binding decision (inkracht) in 2019, while one is still being heard in court.

“From the three inkracht verdicts, only one company has paid compensation, PT BMH. PT WAJ is supposed to pay Rp 466 billion and PT WA Rp 30 billion, but they haven’t,” Rasio said.

In spite of the evidence, activists said that having certified judges was just one aspect of law enforcement, and that judges tended to play a passive role in court, compared with plaintiffs and prosecutors. Improving the capacity to prosecute should be the priority, they claim.

Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL) executive director Raynaldo Sembiring said that certified judges were often passive and dependent on the charges brought to court by plaintiffs or prosecutors. This is the same for both civil lawsuits by the ministry and criminal cases handled by the police.

Raynaldo suggested that plaintiffs from the ministry ought to demand restorative arrangements in their demands in addition to monetary compensation, as it would help in the restoration of the environment itself and not provide compensation to state coffers. “Quality must begin with the plaintiffs. They should use strong arguments with accurate restorative [demands],” he said.

Separately, Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) study of law manager Boy Even Sembiring said that instead of focusing on the number of certified judges, the ministry should focus more on correcting what it felt was lacking in its own law-enforcement division.

“Even before there was certification, environmental cases were rarely taken seriously as a crime in this country,” Boy told the Post on Tuesday. He noted that even Statistics Indonesia’s (BPS) annual statistics on crime still did not treat environmental crimes as a separate category.

According to an estimate by the World Bank, losses caused by land and forest fires in Indonesia amounted to Rp 72.95 trillion in 2019.