Lawyers from a non-sanctioned bar association told the Constitutional Court on Tuesday that their lack of official recognition had unfairly disqualified them from practicing.
Musidah, a lawyer from Nganjuk in East Java, said despite having undergone all the requisite procedures to qualify as a lawyer, she was not allowed to represent a client in a case before the Religious Affairs Court.
“I was representing a client who wanted to get a divorce from her husband, but the court rejected me on the grounds that I was not affiliated with the Indonesian Bar Association [Peradi],” she said.
Musidah, who is a member of the rival Indonesian Advocates Congress (KAI), said she felt her constitutional rights had been violated.
She was testifying at a judicial review of the 2003 Law on Attorneys, which states there can only be one officially recognized bar association in the country.
Peradi, established in 2005 after a merger of eight bar associations, is the sole recognized nongovernmental organization to test and certify the country’s lawyers.
The KAI was formed in 2008, but its members have been barred by the Supreme Court from representing clients in court unless they obtain Peradi certification.
The KAI members claim Peradi is legally flawed because it was established only by a few individuals instead of a congress of lawyers, prompting a group of lawyers to seek a judicial review of the 2003 law with the Constitutional Court.
Erwin, a KAI lawyer from Lampung, said he had been prohibited from representing his clients in court because he was not a member of Peradi.
“I took my bar exam and undertook a two-year internship at a law firm, as mandated by the law,” he told the Constitutional Court.
Tommy Sihotang, another KAI lawyer, told the court that the law did not specifically name Peradi as the only official bar association.
He also said Article 4 of the law stated that high courts across the country were obliged to swear in qualified lawyers, no matter their affiliation, in direct contradiction to the Supreme Court’s decision.
However, Tasman Gultom, from Peradi, said his organization was legitimate under the law because it combined all bar associations in the country at the time that it was formed.
“The eight organizations gave birth to Peradi and agreed on Peradi as the sole organization,” he said after the hearing.
“Those complaining and seeking the judicial review are those who didn’t pass the bar exam.”
He added that under the 2003 law, membership of Peradi was mandatory for all prospective lawyers.
To qualify as a lawyer, he went on, candidates had to have a bachelor’s degree in law and pass the Special Education for Advocates (PKPA) course, provided only by Peradi.