Let Sleeping Judges Lie

If the central government hopes for a more robust, clearer judiciary, it needs to start supporting the nation’s courts – with hard cash.

Indonesia’s chronically underfunded court system has made it notorious here and overseas, a place where the highest bidder often decides the outcome of cases.

At the Denpasar District Court alone, there is no fax machine, no photocopier, and a well-placed source told this newspaper that when judges wish to print out their verdicts, they have to first pay administrative staff to buy paper and ink – with their own money.

The system is creaking under a mountain of paperwork as the Dickensian courts struggle without any IT network to speak of.

This is a scandal. Is it any wonder some in the court system are open to offers to determine case outcomes?

The heavy caseload of vastly underpaid judges is another prime concern, as they handle up to 40 cases a day. Indeed, due to the lack of proper assistance, in the form of secretaries, judges have to work into the early hours of the morning in writing their lengthy decisions, the source, a judge, said.

Hardly surprising, then, that some would appear to “doze off” during back-to-back sessions the following day, as activists claimed last week of the long-running Newmont pollution trial.

“There is enough evidence to show that the judges in this case violated the (judges’) code of conduct and we hope the Supreme Court will respond swiftly,” Mas Achmad Santosa of the Indonesian Centre for Environmental Law said.

He said video recordings had been handed over to the Supreme Court showing that the judges were “sleeping, chatting over the phone and among themselves and ignoring witnesses’ presentations in court.”

Part of the recordings showed a judge apparently sleeping as a witness for the prosecution was giving testimony.

As President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono continually strives to make good on his election promise of ridding the country of the evil of corruption that has for so long beset the nation, first stop must be with those tasked with dealing with such cases.

A proper budget to bring the country’s court system into modernity – and to give overwhelmed judges some breathing space – would be a good start.

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