At top court, justice comes out of the blue

News CoverageApril 8, 2016

Returning to prison: After being acquitted by a lower court, Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS) teachers Neil Bantleman (left) and Ferdinant Tjiong have been returned to prison to serve 11-year sentences after a Supreme Court ruled that they were guilty of sexually abusing three young children.(JP/Seto Wardhana)

The law aims to provide certainty, but at the country’€™s highest court, the road to justice is often dark and hazy.

While being the last harbor of the judicial system, the Supreme Court has issued controversial verdicts overturning lower court decisions without offering clear reasons. The latest was the verdict on a child sex abuse case involving the Jakarta International School (JIS) that overturned the appeal court acquittals of two previously convicted teachers.

The court overruled the acquittals of Canadian Neil Bantleman and Indonesian Ferdinant Tjiong and ordered longer terms for the men for sexually abusing three young children at the school.

The court sentenced the two to 11 years in prison even though a lower court previously ordered them released and threw out the charges.

The Supreme Court’€™s public affairs chief, Ridwan Mansyur, said that there was clear reasoning behind the verdict, but admitted that there had been a lack of transparency in informing the public about the process.

‘€œThe Supreme Court is currently trying to provide people with more information in [any ongoing legal] process and case management, as well as to speed up our case handling as fairly as possible,’€ he said.

Amid uneven skills and infrastructure between various courts across the country, the Supreme Court, which has only around 50 justices on average each year, receives more than 10,000 cases
annually.

Last year, the court received 11,109 cassation appeals in various cases, including both criminal and civil cases, and 2,755 case review requests, an increase from 9,750 cassation appeals and 2,617 case review requests in 2014.

In 2013, there were 9,799 cassation and 2,426 case review requests submitted to the Supreme Court, while 2012 saw 10,753 cassation and 2,570 case review requests.

Supreme Court justice Suhadi said that some judges still wrote their rulings by hand, making the administrative work even harder.

Another example of a controversial decision that overturned a previous ruling was the libel case of housewife Prita Mulyasari against a private hospital. A 2009 lower court ruling that released Prita from all charges was not the end of her case as the Supreme Court declared her guilty in 2011. In late 2012 she could finally feel relieved after the Supreme Court approved her case review bid and declared her not guilty.

In another case of malpractice involving three doctors, the Supreme Court granted a case review requested by the three who were jailed in February 2014, acquitting them after a previous cassation ruling found them guilty of causing the death of a patient through negligence. Fellow doctors had earlier staged rallies to protest the cassation ruling.

Two contradicting Supreme Court rulings in 2009 and 2011 in an embezzlement case had put a former state-owned TV station TVRI executive, Sumita Tobing, into a state of uncertainty for years. Sumita was later arrested in 2014 as the Supreme Court maintained that an ‘€œerror’€ in its verdict numbering system had caused its website to provide false information in 2009 and the court insisted that the 2011 verdict was valid.

The 2009 ruling found her not guilty while the 2011 ruling sentenced her to 18 months in prison.

Reda Manthovani, a former official at the Attorney General’€™s Office (AGO) who is now the head of West Jakarta Prosecutor’€™s Office, said that there was no uniformity between justices in handling cases.

‘€œSome Supreme Court justices often scrutinize facts, instead of focusing on weighing whether the charges have correctly been implemented by the lower courts,’€ Reda said.

Two conflicting decisions of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court over the case review mechanism ‘€” the last legal option to challenge a court ruling ‘€” has brought extra confusion to the already established criminal justice procedures that initially recognized it as a one-time bid.

The Constitutional Court decided in a final and binding 2014 ruling that a convict can now file a case review an unlimited number of times. However, five months later the Supreme Court issued a circular to all courts across the nation ordering them to grant only one chance for criminal convicts to file for case reviews.

Erwin Natosmal, an antigraft activist at the Indonesian Legal Roundtable (ILR), said that ‘€œwithout a clear time frame on when a case is presided and a ruling is made, particularly those cases at the Supreme Court, there will be no legal certainty’€.

The government is currently seeking to develop an online integrated database of legal cases after numerous surveys in the past couple of years have found that the rule of law remains elusive in Indonesia because of the lack of transparency of the judicial authorities, as well as of law enforcement institutions, including the AGO.

Meanwhile, President Joko ‘€œJokowi’€ Widodo has also ordered the Judicial Commission and the Supreme Court, which has long opposed an external oversight role for the commission, to maintain good communications to provide better synergy in monitoring judges.

 

The Jakarta Post, 22 March 2016

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