Law experts criticise lack of reforms
RESPECT for the rule of law continues to be undermined by the weakness of the judiciary, MPs and legal experts agreed during a November 27 conference. Organised by the Former Political Prisoners Society (FPPS), the event was centred around one discussion question: “Is the judiciary out of balance with the other two pillars of sovereignty?”
Amyotha Hluttaw MP U Htay Oo (NLD; Yangon 2) told participants that, since the present National League for Democracy-led administration took charge, great changes had occurred in two branches of the government, the executive and the legislature. But these changes had not been matched by corresponding developments in the courts and criminal justice system. State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had repeatedly stressed the importance of the rule of law and the need for a strong judiciary, he said.
“This is something the government has yet to tackle,” he said.
The question was of particular urgency in view of the recent rise in serious crime, including murder and rape, participants heard.
“Under the law, a person found guilty of child sexual molestation can be sentenced to life in prison. But it’s not clear that the criminal justice system is properly configured to deliver the best outcomes,” said the MP.
Legal experts in attendance said the judiciary could function only with the respect of the public. That respect had been one of the casualties of the military regime.
Retired deputy director general of the Supreme Court of the Union U Aung Win said, “How much respect for the rule of law can some of us have when we ourselves were political prisoners?”
The election of U Thein Sein’s government under the 2008 constitution might have opened up prospects for the eventual reform of the judiciary, perhaps with assistance from overseas, he said.
Checks and balances among the three pillars of the state were required for the proper functioning of each, speakers said. However, one weakness of the 2008 constitution was that it allowed the president to nominate Supreme Court judges without reference to hluttaw, even though the 1947 had allowed MPs a voice in the selection.
Attorney Ko Ni said a necessary check had thus been removed. “This represents a weakness in the present constitution,” he said, even though the 2008 charter guaranteed the freedom and independence of the judiciary. That meant that the executive should not seek to intervene in legal cases before the courts, speakers said, and judges should be granted special protections along with their duties and responsibilities.
Myanmar inched up in the annual World Justice Project Rule of Law Index. This October, Myanmar was ranked 98 out of 113 countries studied by the organisation. Last year, it was 92nd out of 102. The nation’s worst score was in the Fundamental Rights category, which measures eight indicators including right to privacy, due process of law and freedom of religion.
In June, the International Commission for Jurists, a rule-of-law NGO, proposed a 14-step agenda for reforming the country’s courts system, which has been weakened by decades of authoritarian rule.