Judicial discretion and the minimum statutory sentence for migrant smuggling through Indonesia

Wayne Palmer, Antje Missbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The general, but false, perception of migrant smuggling through Indonesia, a large, archipelagic country, is that smugglers operate entirely on their own. In fact, the more complex smuggling operations rely on broad networks of foreign organizers as well as local intermediaries and ground staff. In 2011, the Indonesian legislature introduced a severe minimum sentence for any involvement in migrant smuggling with the expectation that the judiciary would apply the sentence in all future cases. However, some judges proceeded to hand down sentences below the statutory minimum, arguing that the punishment is not commensurate to the relatively minor roles played by locals. This article examines how judges at all levels of the judiciary did so in ten related cases. In conclusion, it argues that statutory sentences are not mandatory in Indonesia and that, by applying below-minimum sentences, judges not only maintain judicial independence; they also effectively exercise a judicial review function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)413-431
Number of pages19
JournalAsian Journal of Law and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


  • criminal justice system
  • Indonesia
  • migrant smuggling
  • minimum sentence
  • transnational organized crime

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