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Jakarta Post

Legal experts scoff at Indonesia’s improved rule of law ranking

  • News Desk

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, March 20, 2020   /   11:22 am
Legal experts scoff at Indonesia’s improved rule of law ranking The Supreme Court building in Central Jakarta. (Courtesy of the Supreme Court/-)

Unimpressed legal experts have called on the government to make the Indonesian justice system fairer despite the country’s improved position in a global rule of law index.

Indonesia improved its aggregate score on the 2020 Rule of Law Index from 0.52 to 0.53, the first improvement in the last five years. The index measures a country’s adherence to the rule of law on a 0–1 scale, with 1.0 being the strongest.

The slight progress was enough for Indonesia to place 59th out of 128 countries surveyed, four positions better than last year’s results.

Critics saw almost no merit in the slight improvement, but also acknowledged the index’s accuracy in exposing flaws in the justice system, which has long been held back by draconian laws and the pervasive grip of corruption.

“The improved ranking might be deceiving as it looks like we have made a significant effort to set up a fair justice system in this country,” law expert Erwin Natosmal Oemar told The Jakarta Post earlier this week.

“However, if you look at Indonesia’s score in the last five years, we haven’t improved much at all, meaning the government hasn’t done much to reform the justice system.”

The report reveals that positive indicators have not improved significantly, as each score only increased between 0.01 to 0.02 percentage points compared to last year’s ratings.

The Rule of Law Index, compiled annually by the United States-based World Justice Project, is a widely used tool to assess whether a country practices the four universal principles of law of accessibility, accountability, openness and fairness.

The index makes use of eight indicators, each of which is assessed by 4,000 legal practitioners and 130,000 households around the world.

According to the latest index, published on March 11, Indonesia has only progressed on five indicators: constraints on government power, open government, absence of corruption, civil justice and criminal justice.

On the other hand, Indonesia experienced a setback in another indicator – order and security – while the scores for two others – fundamental rights and regulatory enforcement – remained stagnant.

Erwin bemoaned Indonesia’s performance, saying the government should place more attention on the index, which has long been used as a primary basis for other indices, including Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

He urged the government to focus on improving three particular indicators – absence of corruption, civil justice and criminal justice – as they were still below the global average, despite improved scores on the index this year.

Indonesia scored 0.39 in the absence of corruption indicator, well below the global average of 0.57. It also scored 0.39 for criminal justice and 0.46 for civil justice. Both are also below the global average of 0.47 and 0.55, respectively.

“These indicators have long been stumbling blocks for Indonesia to achieve a better score on the index. So far, I haven’t seen any effort from the government to improve these indicators,” said the law expert.

“Instead, the government has only made contentious gestures that have weakened Indonesia’s score, such as issuing the controversial 2019 Corruption Eradication Commission [KPK] Law.”

Separately, Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation (YLBHI) chairwoman Asfinawati echoed Erwin’s sentiments, saying that the woeful reality of the current justice system was reflected in the low scores in the three aforementioned indicators, especially criminal justice.

“I think the index is really good at capturing such realities,” she told the Post.

As the head of a legal aid agency, Asfinawati said she had witnessed impoverished people entangled in criminal cases being discriminated against by law enforcers, simply because they did not have access to legal representation.

To prove her point, she recalled several legal proceedings where the police had forcibly detained suspects without any evidence to prove they deserved to be arrested in accordance with the Criminal Law Procedures Code (KUHAP).

Other times, she noted instances where suspects were unable to file pretrial lawsuits because they were unable to afford an attorney. As a result, they often faced tough sentencing when they could have been cleared of the charges if they had access to legal assistance.

These circumstance implied that law enforcement agencies often abused their power, Asfinawati said, adding that this further exacerbated the unfairness within the country’s justice system.

“Sometimes poor people have no idea where to even seek out legal aid, but that doesn’t mean that law enforcers can just discriminate against them haphazardly,” she said. “That's not at all in line with the principles of the rule of law.”

The YLBHI leader said she believed legal reforms such as amending the KUHAP to include fair treatment and the implementation of principles from the Universal Declaration on Human Rights would help Indonesia score better on the Rule of Law Index.

“[Such reforms] may lift not just one but many index indicators at the same time, including criminal justice and fundamental rights,” she said.

Asked separately about the justice system’s shortcomings, Supreme Court spokesperson Abdullah said the public can report judges who have allegedly violated the code of ethics to the Judicial Commission, which would then recommend deserving sanctions for them to the court.

In 2019, the Judicial Commission recommended sanctions for 130 judges for breaching KUHAP provisions, which makes up most of the violations committed at the lower courts. Out of these recommendations, however, the Supreme Court has only followed up on 10 reports.

“We have also simplified our judicial processes since launching the e-Litigation and e-Court system last year, so I think that should be called an achievement as well,” Abdullah said on Friday. (glh)