Story of Change :
By Meyriza Violyta
How is PERMA No. 3/2017 able to provide legal certainty for companion during the trial process?
“We can only watch, Mbak.”
Ansy, an activist and companion at the Legal Aid Institute for Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice (LBH Apik) Kupang, started the story with her complaint on April 10, 2018. Her face was becoming red due to the heatwave that day. In her office, various snacks were served.
Her considerable experiences in assisting cases of women in conflict with the law have made her one of the respected senior companions in her office. She has taken multiple types of cases, for instance domestic violence, divorces, sexual violence, child related cases, and land disputes. LBH Apik is a legal aid institute with a primary focus on assisting and providing legal assistance to women who have suffered injustice, violence, and various forms of discrimination.
She encountered many difficulties through her work as a companion. However, the main obstacle which she often has to deal with is how to raise legal awareness for women. According to Ansy, women often feel frightened and are traumatized. Thus, she regularly faces difficulties in obtaining thorough information about a case.
Another obstacle is the location of the cases. On several occasions, she has had to go to remote locations in East Nusa Tenggara. Not to mention the protracted bureaucracy issues that cause additional burdens. Then, the problems even become more complicated when she deals with law enforcement apparatus who are lacking in gender perspective.
Ansy said that women are often cornered by questions from the investigators and judges. Not to mention, the negative stigma attached to them. All of these factors have made women feel cornered and afraid, and as such their psychological state will likely worsen.
Therefore, she said, a companion is greatly needed. The presence of a companion may have a positive influence on women in conflict with the law. A companion in this case, may become a source of strength for those women, especially psychologically.
However, Ansy explained that companion access in providing assistance to women is very limited. To date, a companion could only accompany the women as far as the court room “door”. Beyond that, those women have to fight alone. “We worry about them; we really want to accompany them until the end. But we often fail to get permission (from the family?)”, she moaned.
Assistance is one of the rights that is accessible by women in conflict with the law. But the fact is many of them were not accompanied by a companion during the trial, and even during interrogation at the police station. She said, the need for a companion is often overlooked by the law enforcement apparatus.
It is true that criminal procedural law is aimed at finding the ultimate truth, but in its process, women’s rights are often neglected, including the right to a companion. According to Ansy, having a companion can actually help the law enforcement apparatus in carrying out the investigation. However, the apparatus is not aware of this role.
Similar experiences are also faced by Sri Nurherwati, the Coordinator of Legal Service of LBH Apik, as reported by hukumonline (12/03/2009). She complained that a companion is positioned just as an observer, especially in a close trial. Sri said that on numerous occasions, a companion has been unable to accompany these women.
She stated that a companion may provide psychological support to help women to relax during an investigation. In cases of violence, many women suffer from significant psychological trauma. Therefore, many of them feel uncomfortable in disclosing information as they are disturbed and afraid.
However, she also often faces the problem of companions unable to act freely due to their limited authority. Law No. 31/2014 on Amendment to Law No. 13/2006 on Witnesses and Victims Protection does not stipulate the authority of companion in any detail. It also does not regulate about the position of a companion in the court. According to Sri, the lack of a firm regulation has considerably weakened the assistance for women.
Aware of this issue, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Indonesia has issued PERMA No. 3/2017 on Guidelines on Prosecuting Cases involving Women. This regulation was also advocated by Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice 2 (AIPJ2) and Masyarakat Pemantau Peradilan Indonesia Fakultas Hukum Universitas Indonesia (MaPPI FHUI).
The reason behind the issuance of this regulation is the discriminatory treatment towards women. This treatment includes gender-based violence, exclusion from the decision making process, various negative stereotypes and limited access for women looking for justice.
The issuance of this regulation gives new hope for a transformation in the Indonesian legal system, especially in legal protection and guarantee of rights for women. The regulation which was established on 11 July 2017 provides guidelines for judges in trialing cases involving women. For example, about what can and cannot be done by a judge during the trial.
The PERMA also regulates what rights women have in the court. The benefits of PERMA are enjoyed not only by women but also by the companions. This regulation has stipulated a clear definition for companion.
A companion, according to Article 1 number 10, is a trusted individual or group or organization and/or has the skill and knowledge to assist women with an objective to make them feel secure and comfortable in making statements during the trial. Article 9 stipulates that a judge can suggest women bring a companion and a judge may grant their request to have a companion with them.
A companion under this regulation is not limited to companions from certain institutions but also includes close and trusted individuals. The objective is to make women feel secure and confident during the trial. The companion, upon approval of the panel of judges, may sit next to the women and give them psychological encouragement. “Now, it’s more favorable, we can enter the court room.” Ansy said.
The legal certainty for companions in providing assistance for women has become evident under the PERMA. The role of a companion during the trial has become more significant. A companion is no longer just an “observer” who witnesses the trial process from the audience bench. Access of companions is closely related to the fulfilment of women’s rights.