Court Decisions

How to read a court decision...


Reading Indonesian Putusan or Court Decisions can be difficult, even if you are comfortable with everyday Indonesian. The layout is confusing, and some of the words are unusual.

But it is important to read and understand the court decision for yourself; don’t rely on your lawyer to summarize if for you. Fortunately, despite all that writing, only a few sections are critical.

First, the Decision itself is an important document. It is not easy to obtain another copy, so keep the original safe and don’t write on it. You may need it again in the future, even if at the moment you don’t think that will ever happen.

Make a photocopy, and on the photocopy we will add lines and headings to help make sense of it.


The decision will start off with a description of the Penggugat or Petitioner, and the Tergugat as the Respondant or Defendant.

Then, probably starting on the first page, the Decision will say something to the effect “Considering, that the Penggugat through her lawyer ... with Letter of Special Power of Attorney... registered this case at the Court Clerk's Office... with an Accusation as follows:”

Draw a line across the page here and write Start Gugatan, because the Decision goes on to quote directly the original Gugatan or Accusation from start to finish.

If the Gugatan was long, there will be many pages of this, and all is identical with the original.

Eventually at the end of the Gugatan you will see the requests of the Penggugat ending with the phrase ”...atau mohon putusan yang seadil-adilnya (ex aequo et bono)”. This is the end of the direct quote from the Gugatan, draw a line across the page and write End Gugatan.

Now one or two more sentences will state that the Tergugat entered a response to the Court, possibly also noting that the Court ordered an attempt at Mediation which failed.

The Decision now goes on to quote directly the original Jawaban or Reply to the Accusation from the Tergugat from start to finish, so draw another line across the page here and write Start Jawaban.

The Jawaban will also list the requests for ruling from the Tergugat, and then again the words ”...atau mohon putusan yang seadil-adilnya (ex aequo et bono)”.

End of the Jawaban, draw a line across the page here and write End Jawaban.

The Decision will now probably list all the bukti or evidence entered by the Penggugat, then the saksi or witness statements from the Penggugat witnesses.

Here things might get surprising. Witness statement are not recorded verbatim by the court reporter, and the statements as quoted in the Decision can be greatly abbreviated—or if there is collusion going on even altered or reversed—from the witnesses’ actual statements in court.

Draw a short line here.

The Decison will continue with a list of the Tergugat’s bukti and saksi statements.

Draw a short line here.

The the Decision may list a few other points, for instance if a Sita Marital or Sequestration of Marital Assets was put in place, it will mention that here.

If this Decision is the result of an appeal to the Pengadilan Tinggi or Mahkamah Agung, the reasons and documents of appeal will also be quoted here, and will continue until those documents are quoted in their entirity.

At this point we are probably finished with about 90% of the pages, and unless you have an issue with altered witness testimonies, there has been nothing new.

Then comes the section Tentang Pertimbangan Hukum or Deliberation Regarding the Legal Merits. Draw a double line here and write Timbangan, because this begins the actual deliberations leading to the final decision.

The Deliberation section my be short or long depending on the the complexity of the case and the thoroughness of the judges, but typically it is one to four pages. The important part comes at the end in the last two pages, headed by the words Mengadili or Judgment.

Draw a line here and write Mengadili.

Regardless of all the reasoning in the Deliberation section, only the Mengadili section actually delivers a judgment. If it is not listed specifically and clearly in the Mengadili section, it is not a court order.

Mengadili will list Dalam Kompensi, Dalam Rekompensi, Mengadili Sendiri or other headings according to whether the requests were advanced by the Penggugat or the Tergugat, not important. The important points are that the judgments are clearly stated by considering all these sections under Mengadili together.

It is a requirement of law that all court orders must be clearly stated in the Mengadili or court ruling, and this is why it is important to read the Decision for yourself rather than relying on your lawyer for a translation. If you don't read Indonesian, go to a disinterested third party for help.


Why should you read the decision for yourself?

Because if you don’t independently verify the court decision, your attorney might translate it for you by saying “Oh, look what is says here, you lost everything! What a shame! Sorry.”

True story, still continuing:

Trevor and Ruli

A friend recently asked for help for his friend Trevor. Trevor is Australian. He and Ruli married four years ago in an Islamic ceremony and legally registered their marriage at the Kantor Agama.

Trevor and Ruli moved to Australia, but Ruli didn’t like it and wanted to return to Indonesia. A son was born a year later, and one year after that Ruli filed for divorce and she demanded full custody.

Ruli won the custody. For the last two years Trevor has returned whenever possible and he attempts to see his son, but Ruli refuses to allow him access, saying that she will bring the son up with a new father and she doesn’t want the son to know about Trevor.

I was surprised to hear the story, because usually when the court awards custody it includes in the order “without reducing the right for the father to have access to give love and affection at any time.” On what basis was Ruli denying access?

Our friend returned to Trevor and asked to see the Decision, but it turned out that Trevor did not have a copy, all was in the office of his lawyer.

Our friend called the lawyer who confirmed that custody had been awarded to the mother. Then Trevor and our friend drove to the lawyer’s office, and despite great resistance from the lawyer, Trevor eventually received his own copy of the Decision.

Back at home they read the Decision. No where did the Mengadili section mention anything about the child or custody.

Trevor called his lawyer to complain and said “There’s nothing about custody here! I could pick my son up from nursery school and bring him to live at my house any time I want!”

“You mean kidnap him?” said the lawyer.“ That’s criminal, you could be arrested!”

“If he’s my son and she doesn’t have custody, that’s not kidnapping!”

“Well, right.” the lawyer finally admitted.

Why would his lawyer lie to Trevor?

Because Trevor paid the same fee for the lawyer’s services regardless of whether he won or lost. If the lawyer went to Ruli he could make a second deal, and the lawyer would be paid double for losing the case.

Trevor didn’t actually lose, but the lawyer told him he did, so Ruli got her money’s worth for a couple of years.