From The Jakata Post

Supreme Court cannot be above the law

T.Sima Gunawan, Jakarta

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the mightiest of them all?

If the mirror could speak, it might say: The judge.

A police officer has a pistol, a soldier has a machine gun and a journalist has a pen, which can be mightier than a firearm. But in Indonesia the judge's gavel tops them all.

Police officers, soldiers, journalists, people of every profession, including the President, are expected to work properly. If they make a mistake, they can be punished. Even the President is accountable.

But what about judges?

They might make a decision which is against the general attitude of the people and no one can punish them. They can not be punished for a decision they make in the courtroom, no matter how ridiculous it is, such as in the case of human rights campaigner Munir's murder.

Like employees, judges actually can only be "punished" by their "supervisors", who should guide them and may take administrative action against those who do not work well.

In general there are three levels: the District Court, the High Court and the Supreme Court. It is the Supreme Court which has the authority to guide and supervise judges at the lower levels, including those from special courts such as the administrative, commercial and corruption courts.

However judges have very strong professional solidarity and there is rarely any news about the Supreme Court taking action against judges who have behaved unethically, taken bribes or brought down controversial verdicts.

If people are not satisfied with a District Court verdict, they can appeal to the High Court. And they can appeal to the Supreme Court if they are not satisfied with the decision of the High Court.

The Supreme Court is the people's last resort for justice. It is expected that this highest court can please upset seekers of justice who are angry and frustrated with the decisions of the lower court.

Unfortunately, even the Supreme Court can disappoint the people, as in the case of Munir, who died in 2004 on board a Garuda Indonesia flight on his way from Jakarta to Amsterdam. Last Tuesday the Supreme Court exonerated Garuda pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, who was originally convicted of the murder, and cut his jail term from 14 years to two years.

The Central Jakarta District Court sentenced Pollycarpus, the sole defendant in the case, to 14 years in December as he had been proven guilty beyond any doubt of taking part in Munir's murder. Former National Intelligence Agency officials were alleged to be involved, with the court noting that the defendant had made repeated calls to the cellular phone of former BIN deputy head Muchdi.

The Supreme Court, however, only found the defendant guilty of falsifying his assignment documents in order to fly with Munir and later exchange seats with him.

While President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had earlier called for the police to thoroughly investigate the case, there was no progress in its development. The alleged mastermind of the murder is still not known and with the dismissal of Polycarpus' murder conviction the entire affair has become even more mysterious.

Chief Justice Bagir Manan himself refused to comment, saying Wednesday that he was not aware of the controversial decision on Munir's case.

In response to the Supreme Court's verdict, the Attorney General stated he would ask the court to review the case.

The court's decision remains to be known. There is no guarantee that the court will issue a decision that is in accordance with the people's desire for justice. Whatever the decision is, people are expected to respect it because the judges make the decision based on the law and Indonesia is a country that upholds the supremacy of the law.

Indonesia is dragging its feet in the implementation of law, which is marked with discrimination and controversy, not to mention the so-called "court mafia" that involves many lawyers, prosecutors, policeman and judges.

Indeed, the country is facing serious judicial problems. In 2004, the Judicial Commission was established and one of its tasks was to supervise the Supreme Court. The Commission had summoned dozens of judges, including Bagir Manan. Bagir was summoned after a businessman claimed that his lawyer had asked for Rp 5 billion (more than US$543,000) to bribe him. Bagir never showed up. He also did not respond to the commission's recommendation that action be taken against controversial judges.

In response, however, as many as 31 Supreme Court justices asked the Constitutional Court to revoke the Judicial Commission's power to oversee the Supreme Court. They said that the Commission had interfered with their judicial independence.

The Constitutional Court granted the request and revoked the power in August this year. The House of Representatives is expected to amend the law to restore the commission's authority.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court remains totally free without anyone to supervise its activities. The judges have the power to decide whatever they believe is true, regardless of public outcry.

The Supreme Court is not a Super Court. The chief justice and all the other justices should not be untouchable.

The writer is a journalist and can be reached at
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