The Supreme Court of the Republic of Indonesia (Indonesian: Mahkamah Agung Republik Indonesia) is the independent judicial arm of the state. It maintains a system of courts and sits above the other courts and is the final court of appeal. It can also re-examine cases if new evidence emerges.
The Supreme Court is independent as of the third amendment to the Constitution of Indonesia. The Supreme Court has oversight over the high courts (Pengadilan Tinggi) and district courts (Pengadilan Negeri). There are about 68 high courts: 31 General Courts, 29 Religious Courts, 4 Administrative Courts and 4 Military Courts. There are around 250 district courts with additional district courts being created from time to time. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal (kasasi) following appeals from the district courts to the high courts. The Supreme Court can also re-examine cases if sufficient new evidence is found. Constitutional matters, however, fall within the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court of Indonesia, established in 2003.
According to the Constitution, candidates for Supreme Court Justices are required to have integrity and be of good character as well as be experienced in law. Candidates are proposed to the House of Representatives by the Judicial Commission. If the House of Representatives approves them, their appointment is then confirmed by the president. As of mid 2011, there was a total of 804 courts of various kinds in Indonesia. About 50 justices sat in the Supreme Court while other high and lower courts across Indonesia employed around 7,000 judges. Officially, the Supreme Court consists of 51 justices divided into 8 chambers.
The chief justice and his or her deputy is elected by the Supreme Court justices from among the members of the court. Sometimes the process is controversial and attracts public criticism. For example, in early 2012 rumours about vote buying were reported in the Jakarta press as speculation mounted about the arrangements underway for the selection of new chief justice to replace Harifin A. Tumpa (who retired as chief justice in March 2012). There was said to be "all-out competition" for the post of chief justice because of the influence that the position holds and it was rumoured that the competition might include payments.
In the election held on 8 February 2012, Muhammad Hatta Ali comfortably won the position of chief justice ahead of four other candidates. He was sworn in as chief justice by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on 1 March 2012. Hatta first became a judge in 1982 when he took up a position on the North Jakarta District Court. He was appointed to the High Court in 2003 and then to the Supreme Court in 2007.
Wirjono Prodjodikoro, who held office from 1952 to 1966, has been the longest office-holder of the position of head justice.
Like most of the Indonesian legal system, the Supreme Court is badly overloaded with demands on resources. One observer has noted that "the Supreme Court is drowning in an increasing flood of new cases each year". In 2010, for example, there were reportedly more than 22,000 cases before the court of which the court managed to rule on less than 14,000. Partly in response to pressures of this kind, proposals for reform of the way that court business is conducted have been under consideration for some time. Current proposals (2011) indicate that a new chamber structure will be introduced to try to improve the operations of the court. The plan is to introduce a system of five chambers which will deal with criminal, civil, religious, administrative, and military affairs. However, the changes are controversial so further reforms may be needed in due course.
The funding for the Supreme Court allocated from the national government budget in 2010 was slightly over Rp 6.0 trillion (around $US 700 million at the prevailing foreign exchange rate).
One significant problem for the Indonesian legal system overall (although less so for the Supreme Court itself) is that most Indonesian judges in lower courts are lowly paid. The official base salary of a judge, before some additional allowances, is often below $US 300 per month. As a result, some judges are tempted to accept payments in the course of their duties. The low salaries paid to judges have been a source of much attention in Indonesia recently with judges urging the government and parliament to tackle the issue, and even threatening to go on strike over the matter. Inevitably, poor performance and difficulties in lower courts leads to problems for the Supreme Court in the efforts by the Court to establish legal standards across the country. These problems receive considerable attention in Indonesia and there is much public discussion about the best ways to promote reform.
There are, at times, criticisms of the way that the court administers itself. In May 2014, for example, the Supreme Court justices collectively agreed to the use of the court budget for the hire of a special jet to take more than 180 justices to the Wakatobi diving resort in Southeast Sulawesi. Participants on the tour were housed in various hotels as the expense of the court. Judicial watchdog groups and others criticised the court although court officials defended the arrangement.
One common criticism of the legal system in Indonesia is that law enforcement is weak. Even when the law is clear, and even when courts issue clear rulings, enforcement is often weak. In recent years, this criticism has often been made of the operations of the Supreme Court in Indonesia as well of the operations of other parts of the Indonesian legal system. The issue is, in principle, a serious matter for the Supreme Court because enforcement of the rulings of the Supreme Court sets standards for the enforcement of rulings across much of the rest of the Indonesian legal system.
The central problem appears to be that the institutions and mechanisms for enforcement of the legal system, including the decisions of the Supreme Court, are underfunded and are operationally weak. There are thus numerous instances of long delays in the enforcement of the decisions of the Supreme Court. As just one example, in a well publicised case, one of Indonesia's leading universities, the Bogor Agricultural Institute, was instructed by the Supreme Court to release certain details of controversial research conducted within the institute relating to the testing of formula milk brands on sale in Indonesia. However following the Supreme Court ruling, the institute failed to comply and even failed to pay a trivial fee (around $230) incurred as a result of certain proceedings during the conduct of the case. Numerous other cases of delays are regularly reported in the Indonesian media and are commented on by lawyers who have won cases in the Supreme Court.