Aug 05, 2020 Last Updated 3:52 AM, Jul 28, 2020

Justice: who gets it and who doesn’t?

Published: Jul 15, 2007


Geoff Mulherin

Who actually gets access to justice? This question is asked in countries around the world – developed and developing. Too often those with status or wealth win out over the rest – ordinary citizens, the disadvantaged, minorities. Too often also law reform is focused not at assisting the most vulnerable in a society, but at satisfying the interests of international investors and domestic elites.

Law reform has been a big topic in Indonesia since Suharto’s authoritarian regime collapsed in 1998. As Tim Lindsey observes in the lead article to this edition, there have been hundreds of new laws, regulations and institutions created. Yet these reforms are taking place on a foundation of 60 years of legal system dysfunction and corruption, and in an environment where there are limited funds available to support the new institutions and laws.

There are some real positives in the reform story to date. Simon Butt writes that the Constitutional Court is taking seriously its role – novel for Indonesia – of judicial review of government decisions, while Ratna Bataramunti describes how new anti-domestic violence legislation is holding out hope for improved lives for women. Judicial independence is increasing.

Yet the question for Inside Indonesia is whether the ordinary citizen is getting a fairer deal? On this front there are still many obstacles. Defence lawyer Irianto Subiakto argues that while ‘macro’ level reform is essential, little has changed in courts at the local level. Annie Feith describes how the new Human Rights Court has failed to bring justice to Papuan victims of abuse. Almost as though answering her question of whether non-Papuans would have fared better, Agung Putri reminds us that the same court has failed victims of abuses in East Timor and Tanjung Priok also.

After seven years of break-neck pace reform on paper, the time has come to devote effort to implementing these reforms, with a focus on the interests of ordinary people, not just the elite.

Geoff Mulherin (gmulherin@lawfoundation.net.au) is guest editor of Inside Indonesia and the director of the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW. 

Inside Indonesia 87: Jul-Sep 2006

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