Alya Nurbaiti, Jakarta – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's decision to award six Constitutional Court justices civilian honors has come under scrutiny, with critics noting that it could interfere with the court's impartiality as it reviews a number of challenges to contentious laws.
On Wednesday, Jokowi honored three Constitutional Court justices – Arief Hidayat, Anwar Usman and Aswanto – with the Bintang Mahaputra Adipradana medal, the nation's second-highest civilian honor. The three other justices – Wahiduddin Adams, Suhartoyo and Manahan Sitompul – received the Bintang Mahaputra Utama medal, the nation's third-highest civilian honor.
Constitutional law expert Feri Amsari from Andalas University in West Sumatra said that although the medals were legitimate, the timing was questionable because many controversial laws were under review at the court.
"Justices are prohibited from accepting anything that is suspected of being related to a case or that will affect the dignity of the hearing or their honor," Feri told The Jakarta Post on Friday, "As we know, the court is currently reviewing the Corruption Eradication Commission [KPK] Law, the Job Creation Law and the Mining Law."
The six justices, who make up two thirds of the Constitutional Court's nine justice bench, had to be aware of the possible conflicts of interest and ethical concerns of accepting the awards, he said.
"Even if, in the end, they are not proven [to have behaved unethically by accepting the award], they still have to avoid such possibilities to maintain the court's honor," Feri said.
Ahmad Redi, a constitutional law expert from Tarumanegara University in Jakarta, concurred with Feri, noting that the award could be considered a form of gratuity.
"The award could interfere with the court's independence since the President, who bestowed the award, is a litigant at the court," Ahmad said on Thursday, "The award seems to be a series of 'gifts' to the court after the revision of the Constitutional Court Law."
On Sept. 1, the House of Representatives passed a revised Constitutional Court Law, which increased the judicial term limit from five to 15 years and allowed justices to serve until the age of 70, ten years older than under the previous law.
It was passed only eight days after its first deliberation, making it among the fastest to be passed in the House's history.
Civil rights groups have raised concerns that the revised law will undermine the court's impartiality and that it was a "political swap" to influence the court's future decisions on challenges to a number of controversial laws, including the Job Creation Law.
As the first and final adjudicator of the constitutional validity of laws and on disputes regarding election results, the Constitutional Court has long provided a means for people to challenge laws that they consider violations of their constitutional rights.
The six justices were among 71 figures awarded civilian honors by the President in recognition of their professional accomplishments. The figures also included former Cabinet members, current top officials, as well as doctors and nurses who died in the fight against COVID-19.
Presidential chief of staff Moeldoko brushed off concerns about the justices being biased by the awards. "Will the awards reduce the independence of justices? I don't think so," Moeldoko said on Thursday, as quoted by kompas.com.