December 21, 2023
JAKARTA – The Constitutional Court has formed a long-awaited permanent three-member ethics council in an apparent bid to restore public trust after a series of ethical scandals in the court, although analysts are unconvinced that the members and the council’s design will prevent future ethics complaints.
During a press briefing on Wednesday, Constitutional Court Justice and spokesperson Enny Nurbaningsih announced the formation of a permanent ethics council, as mandated by the 2020 Constitutional Court Law.
Previously, an ethics council would be formed temporarily when the court received complaints of alleged ethics violations. The latest case was when the court formed a council led by former chief justice Jimly Asshiddiqie to investigate alleged ethics violations pertaining to a ruling that paved the way for Surakarta Mayor and First Son Gibran Rakabuming Raka’s candidacy in the 2024 presidential election.
Aside from finding former chief justice Anwar Usman guilty of “serious ethical violations”, Jimly’s council also recommended in early November that the court form a permanent ethics council.
“We don’t mean to delay the formation of the permanent council. We have a busy agenda now, including ruling over some petitions,” Enny said during the press briefing.
Members of the permanent ethics council include current justice Ridwan Mansyur and former justice I Dewa Gede Palguna; the latter also led the first temporary council that investigated alleged ethics violations against justice Guntur Hamzah earlier this year.
The third member of the permanent council is former Andalas University rector Yuliandri. The law professor was a candidate for a Constitutional Court justice seat in 2014, but President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo picked Palguna instead.
The three names were selected by acclamation by the court justices thanks to their solid understanding of the 1945 Constitution and constitutional court rulings, proven academic records on constitutional law and the absence of ethical issues during their careers, according to Enny.
The Constitutional Court chief justice will inaugurate the three council members for a one-year term on Jan. 8, 2024.
Enny conveyed her hopes that the ethics council could ensure that the justices adhere to the code of ethics in the court’s daily operations, especially ahead of the next year’s general election when the Constitutional Court is expected to settle disputes on elections’ results.
Asked about whether the council would act more proactively in investigating alleged misconduct, Enny said that its authority was only to follow up complaints or findings, rather than actively investigating individual justices.
Since the enactment of the Constitutional Court Law revision in 2020, the court has only set up a temporary ethics council twice.
The first temporary council, established in January this year, found Justice Guntur guilty of breaching the code of ethics for altering without the knowledge of other justices his decision on a ruling pertaining to the dismissal of his predecessor Aswanto. But Guntur only received a warning from the council.
The second temporary council was formed to investigate Anwar, who as a relative of Gibran, was found guilty of a serious ethical violation and stripped from the court’s chief justice seat.
Constitutional Justice Suhartoyo was later appointed to replace Anwar as chief justice, pledging to restore public trust after a series of ethics scandals hit the court.
The formation of the permanent ethics council was a “first good step” taken by the Constitutional Court given the high number of ethics violations reports that must be urgently dealt with, said constitutional law expert Bivitri Susanti of the Jakarta-based Jentera School of Law on Wednesday.
But the council’s design was far from ideal, she added: “The law stipulates a requirement to include one current justice in the council. In the context of judicial supervision, it must be separated [from the court] so it can act more independently.”
The council would also not necessarily solve the public distrust of the court, Bivitri continued. She urged for more comprehensive changes in the court, including setting up supervision on the staffers and developing a public complaint handling mechanism.
Constitutional expert Feri Amsari from Andalas University was more pessimistic about the council’s performance, citing the court’s involvement in its formation and administration system.
“How can the ethics council supervise the justices when so many things depend on them?” he said on Wednesday, adding that appointed council members had interests and relationships with the current justices.
“I’m not sure the ethics council will be firm,” Feri added. “It will only justify the violations done by the court.” (alf)