Supreme Court Chief Justice: Judges Face Temptations Everyday

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - JUST like government institutions’ heads in other countries, Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Muhammad Syarifuddin does not know what it is like to work from home even as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on. He still goes to work and has familiarized himself with video conferencing from a designated cubicle at the corner of his office.  

    TROUGH the monitor, he discusses with fellow justices as well as all the first-level and court of appeals judges around the country. “I didn’t even glance at video conferencing before but now I’m doing it almost every day,” Syarifuddin, 65, said during the special interview with Tempo on May 15.

    In his first speech to the judges and the public broadcast via Supreme Court's YouTube channel two days ago, Syarifuddin stressed the importance of oversight in maintaining integrity and professionalism of the judges as well as court officials and urged them not to be allergic to supervision.

    Syarifuddin sat down with Tempo's Mahardika Satria Hadi and Linda Trianita in his office. In the almost two-hour-long interview, which was interspersed with bursts of laughter, Muhammad Hatta Ali’s successor talked about his work program and his efforts to keep a tight rein on unscrupulous judges.

    How do you maintain and improve judges' integrity?

    I rely on supervision. I was the chief of the supervision division and then the chairman of the supervision chamber of the Supreme Court. We used to have a team of 13 – now perhaps expanded to 20 – senior judge supervisors. We also have financial and staffing auditors. Every Monday we dispatch our oversight team to the regions. We brief them and familiarize them with complaints (from the regions) before they depart.

    Does the team’s work always arise from complaints?

    We follow up on writing complaints which come directly from the complainants or via the mass media. The team is highly mobile. Sometimes even before they arrive back in Jakarta after completing an assignment in a certain region, another assignment is already waiting. Sometimes we send the assignment letters by email. Sometimes we meet them at the airport. Metaphorically speaking, they basically switch “dirty suitcases” with the “clean suitcases” at the airport.

    What does the team do in the regions?

    Once they are in the field, they have to refrain from burdening the subject of inspection. If necessary, no one should know because the judge under investigation sometimes is handling an ongoing case. Therefore, we are very discreet. The first person we examine is the complainant, either at the court or anywhere else.

    From your experience, what are most cases like?

    They are diverse. There are 10 provisions in our code of ethics. One of them forbids us to meet parties embroiled in litigation. But we must also be careful because not all such meetings need to be criminalized.

    Why?

    What if, for example, meetings are accidental or by chance. Usually, someone would report, “Sir, A has reportedly met with that party at this place.” So, there would-be spies. We can’t always blame the judge in question. What can we say, if the judge indeed doesn’t know that (the person he met) is a party in the lawsuit he is handling? Judges don’t always remember parties of a given case. There are usually many people during court sessions. We sometimes don’t recognize everyone present in a court session.

    Read the full interview in Tempo English Magazine