Judges: State officials or public servants?

What is the most lucky profession? The ideal answer is to be a judge, because to be a judge is to hold the power of a God. No wonder that judges are referred to as “representatives of God” on earth, merely because any verdict they issue must be obeyed.

But is the welfare of judges in line with their professional title, which sees people call them “Your Honor”?

The question is easily answered if we look at media reports on dozens of judges who demanded a pay rise recently. Last week about 30 judges came to Jakarta as representatives of the corps to realize the vision of the Supreme Court to “achieve the supreme judiciary”.

They want fulfillment of the rights of judges as state officials as stipulated in Article 11 (d) of Law No. 43/1999 on the Principles of Civil Service, which states: “State officials comprise Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice, Assistant to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, as well as court chiefs, deputy chiefs and judges within the judiciary agency”.

As a consequence, according to the law on judiciary power, the rights attached to judges as state officials include a salary, allowance and other benefits, the cost of services, pension, official residence, health care and vehicles. In addition, judges are entitled to protection in performing their duties.

Yet, ironically, the rights are denied by the government as is evident in the absence of supporting regulations. The same law on judiciary power restricts the provision of rights, saying it will be further regulated by laws and regulations.

To support the struggle for rights, Indonesian judges had raised funds to cover the dispatch of their representatives to Jakarta.

They held some agenda meetings with policy makers related to the fulfillment of the rights of judges. They then conducted an audience with the Judicial Commission as an institution that “has the authority to maintain and uphold the honor, dignity and conduct of judges”. Another target was to build support in order to struggle for the fulfillment of the rights of judges as stated in the law of the judiciary.

A delegation of judges also visited the Constitutional Court to submit an interpretation of Article 25 paragraph 6 of Law No 51 in 2009 (in conjunction with Article 25 paragraph 6 of Law No. 49 of 2009, on the second amendment of Law No. 2 of the General Court in 1986, in conjunction with Article 24 paragraph 6 of Law No. 50 of 2009, on the second amendment of Law No. 7 of 1989 on the religious court of the RI Constitution 1945) that stated: “Further provisions included salary, benefits and other rights, and security guarantees for judges regulated by laws and regulations.”

Indeed, to fulfill the rights of judges, detailed interpretation of the article is needed, unless the government will be perceived as deliberately omitting the article. This is because the salaries of judges have never increased for the last four years, while their allowances have never been raised for 11 years.

The judges came to the House of Representatives, the holder of legislative power, to look into the possibility of revising the law, which we consider unfair.

In response to the judges’ move, presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha said “The President has heard the judges’ voices and has asked related bodies, such as the Administrative Reforms and Finance Ministries, to study their aspirations.” (The Jakarta Post, April 10, 2012)

Along the way, judges should have their rights fulfilled in accordance with the law, which was created by the House and the government. Thus, the deliberate denial of judges’ rights amounts to a violation of the Constitution.

In many discussions, the judges said they did not primarily hunt for money as a goal of their struggle. They only wanted the supremacy of law to be upheld and their legitimate rights met.

There are reasons behind the judges’ demand for a pay rise. First, to reduce or eliminate the potential of corrupt practices through the improper manners of the country’s judiciary apparatus.

Second, to improve the quality of judges, since a handsome remuneration package will attract qualified human resources to pursue careers as judges. In a country like Indonesia, school of law graduates prefer to be lawyers instead of judges.

Third, to increase the self esteem of the judges among other occupations. And, of course, as John Clifford Wallace put it when he delivered a public lecture in Indonesia in 2010 (the Post, Oct. 25, 2010) “a fair wage will also attract the best and brightest to be judges”.

The writer is a judge at the Marabahan Religious Court, South Kalimantan, and an alumni of the University of Al-Azhar, Cairo. The opinions expressed are his own.

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