Myanmar unveils plans to overhaul court system

YANGON: Myanmar on Wednesday (Dec 17) announced plans to reform its judicial system, a move met with scepticism by lawyers and activists long used to red tape and poor access to justice during the junta era.

Courts across the country are to be modernised and committed to “integrity”, independence and the rule of law, according to the new three-year plan unveiled by the Supreme Court.

In the report, Supreme Court chief justice Htun Htun Oo said peace and prosperity could only be achieved once “the eternal principles of justice, liberty and equality” have been enhanced.

The 2015 to 2017 judicial roadmap lays out priorities for the court system as part of wider reforms under a civilian government that have shaken the country out of isolation over the last three years. Much of the judicial system remains cloaked in mystery, with almost no public or media access to trials or basic case information.

A 2013 report from the International Commission of Jurists said that while some barriers preventing lawyers from practising had been lifted by the new government, significant restrictions remained and “systemic corruption” continued to affect every aspect of their careers.

The Supreme Court report recommends media training for court staff, public information counters, case management courses for judges and a satisfaction survey as part of the strategy to drag the judiciary into a new age.

But lawyers used to battling through the country’s labyrinthine bureaucracy remained unconvinced, saying previous plans to overhaul the legal system have swiftly unravelled. “It needs to be practical. Can these problems be solved with this strategy? If it is only on paper, it will never work,” said Robert San Aung, a member of Myanmar Lawyers Network.

Hundreds of political prisoners languished in prison under the former junta, which used a complex web of old colonial laws and makeshift additions to slap dissenters with prison sentences that could stretch into decades. Pyone Cho was sentenced to 65 years in prison for his involvement in a failed 1988 student uprising and spent two decades behind bars before being released in a 2012 amnesty.

The democracy campaigner told AFP that his experience was of a judiciary completely in thrall to the regime. “In front of my eyes the executive interfered with the judicial system,” he said, adding that he faced three different courts, including a military tribunal.

Reforms under the new government that took power in 2011 have included freeing most critics and allowing Aung San Suu Syi’s opposition into parliament. But Suu Kyi recently warned that the transition was stalling, as activists raise increasing concern over arrests of journalists and protesters.

Source: Channel NewsAsia

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