Bar fight brewing over details of Turkish court reform
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 2/2/2011 12:00:00 AM |
Regional bar associations in Turkey have split into two camps over pending changes to the country's top judicial bodies.
Regional bar associations in Turkey have split into two camps over pending changes to the country’s top judicial bodies, with one group’s statement against the move followed by another group’s statement in favor of it.
Twenty-four bar associations issued a joint statement Jan. 31 against the changes to the composition of the Council of State and the Supreme Court of Appeals, arguing that they would damage the independence of the judiciary.
Thirty-seven other bar associations released a joint statement the next day in favor of the changes.
Both moves were in response to a draft law submitted by the government to Parliament on Monday that proposes restructuring what it sees as Turkey’s overworked court system by establishing six new chambers in the Supreme Court of Appeals and two in the Council of State. The draft also proposes that the number of people working in both bodies be increased. The Supreme Court’s 250 members would be increased to 387, while the number of Council of State members would rise from 95 to 151.
In what they called an “Announcement to the public opinion for democracy and state of law: before it is too late!” the 24 bar associations that released the first statement argued that the changes would strengthen government control of the Supreme Court of Appeals brought about by the Sept. 12, 2010, constitutional referendum. According to this faction, the Supreme Court of Appeals will elect the new members from among pro-government judges and prosecutors who will not be independent and unbiased.
Speaking at a conference in Eskişehir on Wednesday, Ankara Bar Association head Metin Feyzioğlu claimed a high court with so many members would be unique in the world. “Please everybody, open your eyes,” he said, adding that the ruling party wanted to decrease the number of judges in 2006 but now intends to increase it.
The 37 bar associations in favor of the proposed changes based their stance on the heavy workload of the judiciary, saying, “Late justice is no justice.” According to their statement, approximately 1.7 million case files are waiting to be finalized by the Supreme Court of Appeals – 50,000 of them waiting in sacks and 400,000 more held at various post offices in Ankara because there is no room in the court building to store them.
The group supporting the changes also said 18,500 cases are dropped each year due to the statute of limitations because they cannot be looked into during in the legally mandated period. Its statement also said it is “meaningless” to distrust the judges and prosecutors to be assigned to the new positions because “they have the right to be there” as much as the existing personnel.
“Our judges and prosecutors should not be evaluated by board decisions but by judicial decisions of their own,” the statement read.
Twenty additional bar associations throughout the country did not sign either of the statements. The one in İzmir said it will hold a strike Feb. 4 and will not enter any hearings on that date. Asking for support for the action from other associations, Sema Pekdaş, head of the İzmir Bar Association, released a statement demanding the purpose of the changes be explained and discussed thoroughly.
The Diyarbakır Bar Association also excluded itself from both statements. “Bar associations should act by their own free will; they should not be [aligned with] political parties,” association head Emin Aktar told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday. He added that the group agrees with parts of both texts, but that the debate should be solved under the roof of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations.
The bar associations of Adana, Amasya, Ankara, Antalya, Artvin, Aydın, Balıkesir, Bilecik, Bolu, Bursa, Denizli, Edirne, Eskişehir, Giresun, Istanbul, Kayseri, Kırıkkale, Kocaeli, Manisa, Muğla, Sinop, Tekirdağ, Tunceli and Uşak signed the statement claiming the changes would politicize the judiciary in favor of the ruling administration.
Those from Adıyaman, Afyonkarahisar, Ağrı, Batman, Bingöl, Bitlis, Burdur, Çankırı, Çorum, Düzce, Elazığ, Erzurum, Gümüşhane, Hakkari, Iğdır, Kahramanmaraş, Karaman, Kars, Kırklareli, Kırşehir, Konya, Kütahya, Malatya, Mardin, Muş, Ordu, Osmaniye, Rize, Sakarya, Sivas, Şanlıurfa, Şırnak, Tokat, Trabzon, Van, Yozgat and Zonguldak signed the statement in support of the changes.