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If you can’t trust the legal system….

Reform is difficult. When there is no foundation, no stable element in a society, there is no place to start. It is even harder when people, by and large, are not really interested in reform if it causes even a moment’s inconvenience; such is the case in Indonesia.Democracy and trust in justice
The Jakarta Post , Jakarta Fri, 08/13/2004 11:05 AM Opinion

Patrick Guntensperger

A successful democracy can be recognized by the confidence the people have in its legal system. When the people have a general feeling that if they are unreasonably or illegally harmed, they can seek recourse through a dependable court system, the country is well on the way to being a mature democracy.

When people have an instinctive belief that a crime will be investigated, prosecuted and punished swiftly, compassionately and impartially, it indicates that their country is or is becoming what we all want a nation to be. Few places on earth have reached this laudatory state of affairs.

Indonesia can get there one day, but there is a lot of work to do. This country’s legal system needs to be reformed from the top to bottom, before it will meet the standards required by a truly just and free society. The people of this country need to be able to expect justice when they encounter the legal system; a perception that justice can be found is a necessary component of life in a true democracy. But before that perception can be part of the social fabric of Indonesia, the reality must be brought about.

There is little hope for justice in a country that has a corrupt police force; before judicial reform can have any likelihood of success, police reform must be, if not complete, at least well underway. Before the country is able to enjoy a sense of security and confidence in the criminal courts, there must be a sense that the front-line defenses against crime, the police, are reliable.

That means that if a crime is reported, it will be investigated — without the need for bribery, and it means that if someone is a genuine suspect in a crime, he will be investigated — despite any attempts at bribery. That also means that if a person is apprehended committing a crime, he will be arrested despite his high status, just as it means that the law-abiding will not be persecuted or harassed despite their lack of status.

The allegiance of the police must be to the law, to the Constitution, to the principals of democracy and, ultimately to the people they serve and protect…not to their benefactors, their cronies, or to particular political parties or individuals. A tall order, to be sure, but one that has been met to a large degree by police forces in countries like Canada, Great Britain, Switzerland, and a number of other countries. The expectation of dedication to justice on the part of the police is not an idealist’s hopeless dream; it is an absolute standard that can and must be insisted upon.

It is however, a chicken and egg problem. There will never be an ideal police force while the judicial system is riddled with corruption. It isn’t reasonable to entertain expectations of dedication, loyalty, honesty and incorruptibility among the police when it is commonly understood that a court judgment can be purchased or avoided altogether if you have the right connections. A police force that brings criminals to face justice, only to see them bribe their way out of jail terms, rapidly collapses from fatigue and frustration.

We can’t expect the police to bring charges against criminals if they know that the charges will only stick against those without the means to buy a favorable judgment or who are without connections in the judiciary. Why, they will not unreasonably ask themselves, are we the only ones foolish enough to miss the gravy train?

Law reform must be approached on both levels simultaneously. We will never have successful police reform as long as the judiciary is and is perceived to be corrupt. And the courts will never become the paragons of justice we want them to be if the enforcement of the law is and is seen to be carried out selectively and primarily for the benefit of the police and their friends.

The expectation of justice must exist throughout the system, from the driver getting a traffic ticket to the government official answering to corruption charges before the highest court in the country. That expectation must be held by the accused, of course, but it must also be shared by the public who follow the news to find out how the country is progressing on the road to justice and equality before the law.

It is no secret that such an expectation is not yet a part of the national consciousness of Indonesia. Before the people can have the expectation of justice as an inherent part of their image of their country, there must be a national effort to reform the system.

That national effort requires several things; for one thing, there must be a belief that the goal is an ideal that is shared by all Indonesians; for another, there must be a belief that the goal can be achieved. But most of all, there has to be a belief that the goal is worth achieving; the people of Indonesia must be able to say that they believe that this country is worth it.


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