JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post / ANN): Because the Covid-19 epidemic in Indonesia shows no signs of easing, the two highest courts in the country, the Supreme Court (MA) and the Constitutional Court (MK), have turned to virtual trials to safeguard justice system continues.
The Supreme Court has ruled in an unprecedented decision that all lower courts will use the Zoom video conferencing platform to conduct their trials fully online starting April 13.
The court issued a joint agreement with the Attorney General’s Office (Attorney General) and the Ministry of Law and Human Rights at the end of last month to conduct criminal trials through video conferencing.
On March 23, weeks before the transition took effect, the court adjourned most trials throughout the country due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
However, it still allows lower courts to conduct selected trials offline with limited attendance at hearings and temperature checks for all participants before they are allowed to enter.
Under the new policy on virtual trials, judges and prosecutors must be physically present in the courtroom, while the defendants will sit in a special room in their detention facility for trial. The prosecutor will then use the video link to question the defendants.
“We need to continue the judicial process during the outbreak, so we have now decided not to postpone the trial and instead move it online,” Supreme Court spokesman Abdullah said Saturday (April 18).
According to Abdullah, all 382 lower courts in the country had begun turning to online courts a few days before the policy was issued.
The court has won in conducting a virtual trial, although there are various technical problems ranging from poor video and audio quality to unstable internet connections that interfere with the examination of witnesses and defendants.
Abdullah could not provide the exact number of virtual trials that have been held to date, but said that around 25,000 criminal cases had been tried online between March 23 and April 17.
He added that the Supreme Court would improve technology and install appropriate equipment.
However, the court has no plans to revive the trial for public view, Abdullah said, including trials that are normally open to the public.
The statement sparked criticism at the transparency of the court, which is notorious for opposing external oversight. In his defense, the court said it wanted to protect the identities of all judges, prosecutors and witnesses, regardless of the nature of the court case.
“In criminal courts, we also deal with crimes related to drugs, terrorism, and corruption cases that often involve criminal organizations. If the defendant is a member of such groups, their associates could endanger witnesses, judges and prosecutors if their identities are revealed, “Abdullah said.
Meanwhile, civil cases were tried in administrative, civil and religious courts under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court – including at lower levels and appealed – were transferred to the e-litigation system on 1 January. In this system, litigation documents are submitted electronically for examination by the trial judge.
Unlike the Supreme Court and all courts under its jurisdiction, the Constitutional Court has used video conferencing facilities for witnesses, forensic witnesses and petitioners to submit remarks and long-distance testimony, years before the pandemic appeared. It also streams live all the congregations on its website.
The Constitutional Court has suspended all examinations until April 21 to comply with the government’s Covid-19 mitigation effort. After the end of this suspension period, the court intends to adopt a more inclusive video conferencing method that will allow applicants to file their cases remotely in a judicial hearing.
The court is now preparing a series of guidelines on conducting virtual trials for its nine judges.
“We have not yet decided whether judges must comply with the social distance policy in the courtroom, or whether they can work from home but are obliged to wear their robes,” said Constitutional Court spokesman Fajar Laksono.
Julius Hebrew from the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Institute (PBHI) said that all courts, especially the Supreme Court, need to maintain transparency because virtual courts tend to limit public access to court proceedings. He said that the decision not to revive the trial was a real effort to limit transparency.
Julius also urged the Supreme Court to standardize video conferencing technology in lower courts to maintain the quality of trials to assist judges in issuing fair decisions.
He said that he had found that some online courts in the lower courts were focusing cameras on the faces of the defendants, who did not offer bird’s-eye view of the defendants’ environment in detention centers.
This made it difficult for judges and prosecutors to determine whether the defendants were intimidated, manipulated, or intervened by giving their statements during the trial.
“In such a setting [at detention centres], we never know whether they are under pressure or not. False statements tend to influence decisions, “said Julius.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian Anti-Corruption Community (Maki) has petitioned the Constitutional Court to oppose controversial regulations that provide law immunity to lawmakers in taking extraordinary measures to protect the economy from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Coordinator Maki Boyamin Saiman said that his experience in the 2013 challenge regarding the provisions in the Criminal Law Procedure (KUHAP), where fellow petitioners submitted their arguments via video link, had convinced him that court decisions would not be affected by holding virtual trials.
The Constitutional Court has so far received seven petitions regarding temporary locking up. – The Jakarta Post / Asia News Network