RANGOON — Observers of Burma’s legal affairs expressed skepticism over the judiciary’s reform under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government despite accomplishments claimed by the Supreme Court in state media.
“Burma’s judiciary system is in accordance with the standards widely practiced in democratic countries,” the March 14 edition of Myanma Alinn claimed as part of the government’s coverage of its “one-year performance” in state-run newspapers.
The report lauded extra resources given to the judiciary and upgrades to court facilities as per its judiciary strategic plan for 2015-17.
The Supreme Court also stated in the publication that under the strategic plan, court user satisfaction had risen in three improved pilot courts—Bago Division’s Taungoo District Court, Rangoon Division’s Hlaing Thayar Township Court and Karen State’s Hpa-an Township Court.
According to surveys completed between July 2015 and June 2016, satisfaction had improved 66 percent compared to 2014, based on factors such as judicial access, quality, fairness, equality, independence, integrity, and public trust, said the report.
Despite the claim, lawyers and legislative committees told The Irrawaddy that there had been no significant improvement in the overall judicial sector under the new NLD government, and that judiciary members from the U Thein Sein-led quasi-civilian government with old policies stunted progress.
U Kyee Myint, a former chairman of the Myanmar Lawyers’ Network (MLN), said the Supreme Court’s three-year strategic plan bore no relevance to the situation of the courts and was not effective at reforming the courts.
“Judicial staff remains the same as before; legal employees, police, and judges…they all are still the same,” U Kyee Myint said, emphasizing that corruption remains the most serious issue in judiciary.
He recommended that the NLD government invite experienced independent legal experts to advise its cabinet on effective democratic judicial reform.
Mandalay-based human rights lawyer and a founding member of the MLN U Thein Than Oo echoed his comments, saying that the judiciary needs to be transformed from its foundation.
“The current judiciary system originated from the [military-drafted] 2008 Constitution,” he said.
“As all of its judges were trained under military dictatorship, their mindset, attitude and stance can only comprehend protecting the dictatorship,” he said, emphasizing that the current judicial system conflicts with the policies of the newly-elected government.
“The judicial system should be people-oriented, which protects people and their interests,” U Thein Than Oo said.
He also told The Irrawaddy that the MLN was trying to form an independent group to monitor court hearings in the country, stressing the need to take records of court performance.
U Aung Tin Lin, secretary of the Lower House parliamentary Justice and Legal Affairs Committee told The Irrawaddy that it had received more than 1,000 letters of complaint since the formation of the committee in May last year.
Even though most of the complaints concerned old cases, U Aung Tin Lin said he had seen no progress in judicial reform.
U Sann Myint, the chair of the Upper House parliamentary Public Complaints Committee told the Irrawaddy in January that it received more than 4,000 complaints from the public during 2016 with more than half relating to dissatisfaction with the judicial system.
Earlier this month, there was heated debate between a Supreme Court judge and Lower House lawmakers urging the government to fix a judicial system they described as corrupt.
Lawmakers also suggested that the jury system be adopted to improve the judiciary.
Supreme Court Judge U Soe Nyunt denied lawmakers’ accusations that the judiciary was corrupt; he said that less than one percent of judges were found guilty of corruption charges.
The previous government appointed all of the current judges serving on the Supreme Court. The 2008 Constitution allows them to hold the position until they turn 70.