Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Contempt of Court amendments rejected (Myanmar/Burma)
Mizzima provided a brief update on the Pyithu Hluttaw Judicial Committee's complaints process. According to Chairman Thura Aung Ko, the committee has been overwhelmed with over 3,000 letters of complaint. The committee has looked into 1,000 letters thus far and forwarded others to other parliamentary committees.
In other news, the Pyithu Hluttaw has rejected amendments to the draft contempt of court bill. The bill, in its current form, would impose six months in jail, a fine of up to 100,000 kyats, or both for contempt of court. Independent MP Thein Nyunt criticized the draft as too harsh. The draft would provide too much protection for judges and risk punishing relatively innocuous comments about judges. It might also dampen efforts to tackle judicial corruption if newspapers and citizens cannot talk freely about judicial corruption.
Of course, contempt of court is a serious offense and risks obstructing justice. From a comparative perspective, many common law countries impose strict sentences and criminal fines for contempt (Canada imposes up to two years imprisonment). However, the definition of contempt must be carefully constructed in order to avoid stifling legitimate discussion of courts. In the U.S., contempt is defined as behavior that disrupts court proceedings or enforcement of court orders. Commentary on judges' decisions is not contempt.
Myanmar's draft contempt of court bill is not yet available. However, the law was drafted by the Supreme Court, suggesting it will be relatively protective of judges. Hopefully, before the draft is passed, the Hluttaw debates the exact scope of contempt and not just the sanctions.