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Indonesia agonises over search for clean judges JAKARTA - Achmad Ali shifted uncomfortably, constantly adjusting his collar as he was interviewed by the Indonesian Judicial Commission about joining the nation's highest legal body, the Supreme Court. Like most Indonesians, the university law school dean is an avid user of SMS phone messaging. Commission members were complaining about being besieged by pleas to ignore reports that Mr Ali was under investigation for embezzling law school funds.

The fidgeting increased when 17 messages to a senior general were also revealed, requesting he use his influence to support Mr Ali's application. In return, the SMS's allegedly promised, the military could expect lenient treatment in any human rights abuse cases. Mr Ali was one of the lucky nine to be interviewed this week 111 other applicants were deemed unsuitable before the final selection process.

There are six vacant slots on the bench, but the commission has been unable to find the 18 candidates required under law to present for parliamentary approval. The commission was established by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to rein in a wayward judiciary. Its head, Busyro Muqqodas, said candidates with the moral and intellectual capacity to join the Supreme Court were scarce.

The current bench was far from perfect and susceptible to bribery, he told The Age. "This is why we see many controversial decisions made by the Supreme Court that do not fulfil public needs for justice. "There are judges with high moral integrity but poor financially. But there are also judges whose morality is basically already corrupt. No matter how high you raise their salary they will always do the same practice. "It is due to the corrupt system we have."

Honest judges were in the minority. "What we need is not only someone who can be clean, but a judge who is able to perform professionally," he said. The public interviews are an innovation, an attempt to counter perceptions that court members were beholden to Jakarta's political and business elite. The Chief Justice, Bagir Manan, is under investigation for receiving 422.000 euro to grant a lenient sentence to a half-brother of the former president Soeharto. When three judges ruled that he should testify before the bribery case, they were dismissed.

This week saw the release of Soeharto's youngest son, Tommy, who served just five years for ordering the assassination of the Supreme Court justice who found him guilty of fraud. A court panel cut Tommy's sentence to 10 years, despite the criminal code mandating a life or death penalty for arranging a murder. Tommy was just one of the wealthy defendants to receive remarkably light treatment before the Supreme Court.

Business figures privately concede that large civil cases usually develop into a bidding war over who can provide the biggest payoff. Human rights leaders, including Asmara Nababan, welcomed court appointments being handled publicly by an independent commission, rather than in political backroom deals. The lack of quality candidates indicated the challenges for reform, he said.

Under questioning, Mr Ali admitted messaging the general, a friend who was related to a high-ranking legal official. He complained they were headed: "Very confidential, keep this off the record." Mr Ali said he was only questioning why prosecutors had named him as a suspect in their investigation of the law school fraud. Mr Asmara said a judicial appointment for Mr Ali would demonstrate the failure of the selection system and the push for reform.



Posted in Human rights @ 04 November 2006 04:32 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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