Courting Reform: Indonesia's Islamic Courts and Justice for the Poor

Type Journal Article - International Journal for Court Administration
Title Courting Reform: Indonesia's Islamic Courts and Justice for the Poor
Volume 4
Issue 1
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2011
Page numbers 3-16
This paper documents a judicial reform case study in the world’s most populous Islamic country that has involved increasing access to the courts for disadvantaged groups. The process began with an Access and Equity Study in the area of family law conducted by the Religious Courts of Indonesia in partnership with the Family Court of Australia as well as Indonesian research institutes and an NGO for female heads of household. The key findings of that study showed that the 50% of Indonesia’s citizens living below $2 a day would face challenges in bringing their family law cases to the Religious Courts, something that is mandatory under Indonesian law. The paper documents the steps taken by the Religious Courts over the last five years to increase access to the courts for disadvantaged groups, principally women, the poor and those living in remote areas. It is estimated that 30-40,000 Indonesian citizens facing financial and other forms of disadvantage will access the Religious Courts for their family law cases during 2011as a result of court fees being waived or a circuit court visiting their locality. The paper also highlights why legalising marriage and divorce and the provision of birth certificates (requiring a legal marriage certificate) are important for female heads of household and the families they support in terms of accessing broader public services, such as education and health. Western perceptions of Islam in Indonesia are often dominated by images of radical minorities seeking a shari’ah state. In reality, mainstream Islamic institutions have played an important part in the post-Soeharto process of democratisation and law reform. This paper shows how Indonesia’s Religious Courts (its family courts for Muslims) have been part of this. Long among the most liberal in the Muslim world, these Islamic courts have now embraced reform within a judicial system notorious for corruption and incompetence (Lev 1978; Lev 2008; Pompe 2005). In the last half decade, they have taken the lead in efforts to provide decisions that are more accessible, transparent and fair for women and the poor. They now stand as an example of how both Islamic institutions and courts can be part of Indonesia’s broader Reformasi (Reformation) process. This paper seeks to demonstrate that the new assertiveness of the Religious Courts does not suggest a growing conservative Islamisation of the Indonesian judicial system (in fact, quite the opposite). We argue instead that the Religious Courts and their reforms have come to play an important role in both Indonesia’s judicial reform agenda and its broader development and poverty alleviation efforts.

Related studies