The lengthy detentions were one of the main areas of criticism in Turkey’s EU progress reports over the years.
Lengthy pre-trial detentions are “unconstitutional,” Turkey’s Constitutional Court has ruled, answering four individual applications.
The decision announced late July 2 is expected to impact the course of key trials in Turkey such as the “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) coup plot case; the Ergenekon coup plot case; cases against suspected members of the outlawed Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the alleged urban wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); and a case against those involved in a harsh army-led campaign that forced the resignation of the government in June 1997, in an event known as the “Feb. 28 process.”
Furthermore, it will help harmonize Turkish law with verdicts from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
While the court ruled on four cases, it rejected an application from a defendant over lack of territorial jurisdiction due to the timing of the applicant’s arrest as part of the Balyoz case. The court ruled that the application was submitted before the Constitutional Court started admitting applications on Sept. 23, 2012. Allegations that the defendant did not receive a fair trial have yet to be considered, Anadolu Agency reported July 3. Out of four applications the court has ruled on, three were related to long detention periods of up to five years, while the other was on a long trial period. The applications solely involved cases of ordinary crime, and were thus not political. However, the Constitutional Court only decides on whether the rights of the applicant have been are violated, so the conviction of defendants must still be ruled by local courts.
The court also promised to act in harmony with the ECHR, whose decisions will set a legal precedent. “We have fully accepted the ECHR’s criteria. Our Constitution will act in line with ECHR verdicts about the long detention periods and proceedings,” Constitutional Court President Haşim Kılıç told daily Hürriyet.
According to the new regulations, in long detention cases, the verdicts of the ECHR will take precedence over Turkey’s internal practices. Lengthy decisions have been one of the key areas criticized in Turkey’s EU progress reports over the years.
‘A positive step’
The Constitutional Court’s regulation is a positive step and the given progressive verdicts are correct in the sense of creating precedents and avoiding new rights violations, Bahçeşehir University Constitutional Law department teaching assistant, Serkan Köybaşı told the Hürriyet Daily News.
However, Köybaşı also said not implementing the same criteria for the alleged coup-plot case Balyoz (Sledgehammer) was unlawful since appealed cases were ongoing and even if verdicts were given, the suspects’ penalties were not definite.
In the first place, implementing individual applications to the Constitutional Court was a malicious move to block Turkish citizens’ direct way to apply to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Köybaşı said.
The possibility of individual applications to the Constitutional Court was introduced into the Turkish legal system through amendments in 2010. Sept. 23, 2012, was set as the first day such applications could be received.
Article 148 of the Constitution stipulates that anyone who thinks that his or her constitutional rights set forth in the European Convention on Human Rights have been infringed by a public authority will have the right to apply to the Constitutional Court after exhausting all other administrative and judicial remedies.
Erdem Güneş from Istanbul contributed to this report.