Protecting Our Hero
The government must protect expert witnesses in court. Immunity for witnesses must be upheld
The Cibinong, West Java District Court should reject the lawsuit filed by Jatim Jaya against Bambang Hero Saharjo. Criminalization of expert witnesses, whose immunity is guaranteed, based on their testimony in court is a serious threat to law enforcement.
Fortunately, Jatim Jaya Perkasa withdrew its first lawsuit against Bambang last week. The panel of judges handling the case granted it. The reason given by the company was not to stop the lawsuit, but to make improvements to a number of documents. As a result, the lawsuit was re-filed.
This civil lawsuit is unacceptable. Jatim Jaya questioned the testimony of Bambang in court when the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry produced the senior lecturer from the Bogor Institute of Technology as an expert witness to calculate the losses to the state caused by the burning of forest alleged to have been carried out by the company five years ago.
This lawsuit was not filed based on legal regulations. The company ignored the right of immunity as laid down by the Witness and Victims Protection Law. Article 10 of this law states that witnesses, victims and people making reports cannot be charged under criminal or civil law for the reports or testimony that they will provide, are providing or have provided.
Moreover, the reasoning provided by Jatim’s attorney is weak. He has accused Bambang of breaking the law resulting in losses to Jatim, which was found guilty and fined Rp1 billion for negligently allowing the burning of peatland in Riau. The Rp510 billion lawsuit is contrived because Bambang, who has acted as an expert witness in dozens of trials, did nothing that was against the law. The Environment Ministry officially requested Bambang act as an expert witness, and all his testimony was given under oath.
Expert testimony heard in court is used for consideration. It was not binding and therefore cannot be used as the object of a lawsuit, yet alone as a basis for preventing the execution of a sentence following a verdict. If they considered Bambang’s testimony in reaching a verdict, that is the right of the independent panel of judges.
This lawsuit not only insults the witness and the court, but also ignores the right of citizens who care about the damage to the environment. The Environment Law guarantees this right. Article 66 states that citizens who fight for the right to a good and healthy environment cannot be prosecuted under criminal or civil law.
The Environment Ministry should provide legal assistance. The state must intervene by offering protection to those who testify in the interests of law enforcement. After all, Bambang is the second expert witness who has been sued. Several months ago, Nur Alam filed a lawsuit against Basuki Wasis, an expert witness who calculated the environmental damage as a result of the mining permits issued by the former governor of Southeast Sulawesi.
These lawsuits could set a bad precedent for the future. It is not impossible that experts or academics could be afraid to testify if every statement they make in court could become the subject of legal proceedings. If this happens, trials will lose their “essence”: seeking justice from different perspectives.