We need no Screwtape letters

Some friends suggest that we should add some revisions to the “Our Father” prayer. Instead of “lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil”, it should be “lead us not to temptation because we can find it by ourselves”. Of course we cannot amend the prayer, but this joke shows us that no one needs a lecture about how to sin.

Human nature once became a subject of a satirical novel by CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape, a high ranking demon, writes letters to his nephew Wormwood on how to be a good seducer of humans. However, if Wormwood lived in Indonesia right now, Screwtape would not need to guide him on how to seduce law enforcers into falling into temptation. They are creatively able to find or create ways for themselves.

As more and more law enforcers get caught by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), none of us are shocked any more. Long before, we had already caught judges, the Constitutional Court chief, lawyers, prosecutors and a court registrar. Perhaps the only ones who work in the court who have not yet been caught are the janitors. As for the rest, the sweet chariot of the KPK has swung down for them. Why does it keep happening?

First, as Adrian Bedner wrote in 2002 on judicial corruption, the spreading influence of corrupt behavior occurs under such conditions as the vague boundaries between the private and public spheres, the perceived inability to meet needs, the incomplete legal information given to people or justice seekers and imperfect legal education.

Low pay is no longer an acceptable excuse for corruption, given the improvements in the remuneration of the bureaucracy, including the judiciary.

Yet in law enforcement the public is often unaware of available, basic procedures, including access through the Supreme Court website to monitor cases. Not all people are familiar with this method. In reality we need to interact closely with the court registrar. Judges may come and go, but court registrars are rarely moved to other courts. Hence, their positions become powerful.

In many judicial corruption cases most of the corrupt judges use the court registrars as couriers or middlemen. When you go to court just to register your power of attorney, they will not ask additional fees because you should already know the fee. Or when you just want to check for evidence some may make the process difficult if you don’t have a good relationship with them.

The glaring vagueness within the judiciary and its services provide a wide chance for corrupt practices as a lot of procedures happen in the court based on the discretionary power of the court registrar.

Therefore, to eliminate this rampant judicial corruption, just arresting the perpetrator is not enough. We need a massive, structured and systematic approach to judicial corruption. The first stage is to make clear all court procedures, including the fees.

Second, limit the interaction of people by setting up an online system, for example the e-registration of a case with the court, e-monitoring of cases, or even e-publication of the judge’s decision. This will lead us to the last step of reviewing our procedural law, which is still based on the Dutch colonial legacy. Adjustments would need the inclusion of clear procedures on how the court should better serve the people. If we have an impeccable procedural law, we can more easily eradicate judicial corruption.


Written by  Michael Herdy

Published on The Jakarta Post