A Snapshot of Indonesian Law (and Indonesia) & the FCIL-SIS Throws a Party

By Julienne Grant

Rheny3Dr. Rheny Pulungan, recipient of the 2016 FCIL-SIS Schaffer Grant, gave a fascinating presentation on July 18 entitled “The Legal Landscape in Indonesia:  Limitations and Possibilities.”  This was actually Dr. Pulungan’s first time in the United States, and she admitted to being a little overwhelmed.  She was headed to NYC after her Chicago visit.

Dr Pulungan began her presentation with a quiz for audience members, “Fun Facts About Indonesia,” which tested us on our basic knowledge of the country, such as the number of islands (around 18,000);  population (about 250 million); and official religions (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Confucianism). Needless to say, the attendees were a bit stumped and surprised at the answers. The speaker also showed a slide of Indonesia embedded on a map of the United States, and many of us were astonished to see what a large geographic area the country spans.

Indonesia’s legal system is complex, with civil law attributes resulting from the archipelago’s time under Dutch rule.  One region, Aceh, applies Shariah law. Since 1945, Dr. Pulungan explained, Indonesia has been creating its own laws. Starting in the 1970s, efforts began to create a national legal information center that would make Indonesian laws more accessible, and beginning in 2004, laws and court opinions have been regularly posted on Indonesian government websites.

The speaker next turned to Indonesia’s judicial system. At the trial level are 250 district courts, appellate level high courts number 30, and the Indonesian Supreme Court is a court of cassation. There are also specialized courts, including religious courts and military courts, as well as a constitutional court.  The Supreme Court has a website where its decisions are posted, although none are translated into English. Dr. Pulungan described the search functionality of the site as being mediocre and indicated that the Supreme Court does publish a small number of its decisions in print.  In 2012, as part of USAID’s Changes for Justice Project, an electronic case tracking system (SIPP) was established that was designed to promote judicial transparency.  According to the speaker, it is possible to search by case number or party name to locate information.  Dr. Pulungan also noted that court decisions at all levels must be uploaded within three days of rendering.

Decisions of the Constitutional Court (established in 2001) are translated into English and available on the Court’s website.  The Constitutional Court is not an appellate court and its authority is vested in the third amendment to Indonesia’s Constitution.  The Court’s database can be searched by multiple variables, including case number, case name, applicant names, and keywords.  The Constitutional Court’s role is “The Guardian of the Constitution.”

According to Dr. Pulungan, Indonesian legislation is relatively easy to find online, but locating official English translations can be difficult. There are several databases of note that contain Indonesian legislation: the State Secretariat Database (updated daily); Lexadin; some UN agency websites (such as UNODC); and Hukum.  Hukum is the only commercial database available for Indonesian law in both English and Indonesian.

The speaker next turned to secondary sources.  She recommended Cornell University’s “Southeast Asia Program” website and a quarterly publication called Inside Indonesia. She also mentioned the English-language law journal, Indonesia Law Review , which is open access, and the Australian Journal of Asian Law that is hosted on SSRN. The Jakarta Post covers legal news and developments, and Dr. Pulungan also noted the “Indonesia at Melbourne” blog and the website of the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society.

The speaker closed her talk by emphasizing that translating Indonesian legal materials into English is inherently difficult.  She provided an example of a phrase in Indonesian translated into English by Google Translate as “hiking education,” while a UNESCO document translated it as “educational streaming.” She advised attendees to search for more than one English translation. Dr. Pulungan has created a LibGuide on Indonesian law and told audience members that she was available via email for assistance.

A question from the audience was raised about religious courts, which she explained are unique and preside over family law matters. As an aside, the speaker mentioned that Indonesian couples who marry must be of the same faith; Dr. Pulungan’s husband is Australian, and he had to convert to Islam for a day in order for the marriage to be legal in Indonesia.  Another attendee asked whether any Indonesian court decisions are precedential. There is no precedent, she said, but Supreme Court decisions include practice notes that can influence lower courts.

ReceptionAfter Dr. Pulungan’s excellent talk,[1] audience members headed to the FCIL-SIS reception for foreign visitors.  The reception was well attended, and I enjoyed chatting with FCIL colleagues there. Keith Ann Stiverson, 2015-2016 AALL President, welcomed the guests and announced the numbers of foreign attendees:  27 from Canada, 17 from the UK, 2 from Australia, 1 from Hong Kong, 1 from Ireland, 2 from South Korea, and 1 from Switzerland.  Ms. Stiverson’s remarks were followed by a few words from IALL President Jeroen Vervliet (Peace Palace Library). Mr. Vervliet related his adventures in Hyde Park at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. He also announced that the International Journal of Legal Information has a new publisher (Cambridge) and a new look. Mr. Vervliet presented a copy of the new issue to editor Mark Engsberg (Emory U) who had not yet seen it. Overall, it was a great party, although I admit I could have used a few more coconut shrimp.

 

[1] I will also add that Dr. Pulungan made a fashion statement with her dress constructed with fabric covered with images of books. Loved it.

 

3 responses to “A Snapshot of Indonesian Law (and Indonesia) & the FCIL-SIS Throws a Party

  1. Thank you so much for this very neat summary of my presentation, Julienne! It was a great conference and I will be coming back! Greetings from Down Under, Rheny

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