By Joseph Allchin
Burma’s Supreme Court has ruled that it is not the responsibility of judges to decide who can attend court hearings held inside prisons, a move described by legal experts as “astounding”.
The ruling came as a result of an appeal filed by Phyo Wei Aung, who is facing murder charges over the series of grenade attacks in Rangoon during the Thingyan festival last year.
He had appealed to judges to allow his family to attend the trial, but was denied by Insein prison authorities. Judges and legal experts were then unable to overturn the decision.
The Hong Kong-based Asia Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said that the trial further highlights serious problems with the justice system in Burma.
“Whereas a judge in a courtroom outside a prison in Burma may not conduct a trial fairly, at least she has nominal authority over the premises: by contrast, her counterpart inside a prison does not even have this.
“He is in an Alice in Wonderland scenario, perched in a courtroom over which he has no control, deciding on a case in which a decision has already been made: a non-judge occupying a non-courtroom in a non-trial”.
It added in a statement that the decision showed “just how far logic has departed” from Burma’s judicial system and “underscores the extent to which the judiciary in Burma has abdicated its authority in favour of the security services”.
That sentiment was echoed by David Mathieson, Burma analyst at Human Rights Watch, who told DVB that “this is another example that the courts in Burma serve the military junta, not the people or justice.”
AHRC further highlighted concern over the fact that the accused are often not presented with the charges brought against them, concluding that “the judicial system in Burma has been reduced to nonsense and doublespeak.”
Phyo Wei Aung is accused of carrying out the attack on the X20 pavilion in April 2010 in which nine people died, but was repeatedly denied legal aid despite that being a right under Burmese law.