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Gov't seeks to shorten long trials

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 9/15/2011 12:00:00 AM | SERKAN DEMİRTAŞ

Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin believes that not the long detentions but the lengthy trial periods is the biggest problem of the Turkish judicial system. ‘Instead of discussing long detention periods, we should perhaps focus on the excessive length of trial processes,’ he says in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News

The main task facing the Turkish judiciary is to speed up lengthy trials, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin has said, announcing a comprehensive strategy to make the country’s judicial system more efficient and effective.

“Instead of discussing long detention periods, we should perhaps focus on the excessive length of trial processes. Each case should be concluded in a reasonable period of time. This is the fundamental problem before the Turkish judiciary,” Ergin told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview Wednesday.

Turkey’s long pre-trial detention periods have been the subject of much criticism and are a serious barrier to the country’s ongoing democratization process, according to European Union bodies that have asked Turkey to take urgent steps to solve the problem. Nearly two-thirds of the people behind bars have not yet been convicted of any crime, a figure that has been growing in recent years as prominent figures from the media, academia and civil society have been detained on charges of plotting against the government in connection with ongoing cases such as Ergenekon and “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer).

According to Ergin, there are four fundamental issues that slow down the judicial process: shortcomings in physical infrastructure, a lack of human resources, regulations and problems deriving from the implementation of laws.

“We are about to overcome physical [infrastructure] problems. We have increased the indoor areas of judicial institutions nearly five times since 2002. Likewise we have renewed nearly all fundamental laws. The problems [now] stem from a lack of appropriate human resources,” the minister said.

Turkey currently has around 12,000 judges and prosecutors but needs at least 10,000 more to deal with the heavy caseload, Ergin said. “In addition we need between 1,300 and 1,500 judges and prosecutors for appeals courts. We are trying to take some measures to increase these numbers. For example, we are easing procedures for lawyers to become judges or prosecutors,” he added.

If such measures are implemented, they will enable Turkey “to provide swifter, qualified and [more] just justice to our citizens,” Ergin said. “The most important thing is to inject confidence in the people that justice is provided in this country. This is highly crucial for societal peace.”

The ministry is holding a number of seminars with prosecutors and judges on these issues, he added. “They have to be more careful. Because once detained, people cannot really change other’s views on them even if they have been acquitted,” Ergin said.

[HH] Ergin refutes criticisms

In the interview, Ergin also addressed the strong criticisms being made by opposition parties on alleged government interventions in the ongoing “Deniz Feneri” (Lighthouse) charity embezzlement case. It has been claimed that three prosecutors in the case were removed from their posts by the justice minister’s instructions because they were about to reveal links between ruling party officials and people accused of corruption in the case.

“The investigation into those prosecutors was launched by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors [HSYK] with my consent. I should remind [you] that I have given my consent to all such demands from the HSYK. This was not an exception,” Ergin said.

The minister added that the three prosecutors in question had been running the case since 2009 and the ministry positively responded to all of their demands, including a trip to Germany, where the corruption in the Lighthouse charity was first unveiled. “However, this does not mean that prosecutors are exempt from being probed over their possible illegal acts,” he said.

[HH] Journalists should make self-criticisms

Ergin also commented on a recent Justice Ministry statement that only four of the 63 arrested journalists on a list provided by the Turkish Journalists’ Union, or TGS, could be considered to have been detained due to their journalistic activities.

According to the minister, the group of detained journalists includes people who have been charged with robbing a bank, murder, fraud and other crimes. “I will not mention names but only four of them could be considered to have been detained due to journalistic activities,” he said.

In this sense, Ergin added, media organizations should make a self-criticism and distinguish real journalists from others. “Making such a list and showing all of them in the same list would be a great injustice to those real journalists if they have been detained for journalistic works,” he said.

When asked about the cases of Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, two prominent journalists who were arrested for writing books and articles on sensitive issues, the justice minister refrained from commenting. “Whatever I would say would be seen as an intervention in a judicial process,” he said.

The minister also refuted claims that freedom of expression has deteriorated in Turkey, especially in recent years. “That would be a wrong assessment. If you sum up all we have done in terms of human rights and freedom of expression, you will see that we have broken the negative records of the last 60 years,” Ergin said.

Addressing the number of prosecutions launched against journalists, the minister said a suspended draft on improving their conditions will be reviewed following the opening of Parliament on Oct. 1.

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