Erdoğan highlights judicial impartiality, while top judge focuses on judicial independence

Erdoğan highlights judicial impartiality, while top judge focuses on judicial independence

Erdoğan highlights judicial impartiality, while top judge focuses on judicial independence

The president of the Supreme Court of Appeals, Ali Alkan, (2R) shakes hands with the head of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB), Metin Feyzioğlu (R). A row with the latter prompted President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, PM Ahmet Davutoğlu and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ to boycott the event. HÜRRİYET Photo

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has emphasized the importance of preserving judicial impartiality, while also drawing attention to the dangers of sovereignty of groups within the judiciary that share similar interests.

“As important as having an independent judiciary is, even more important is the impartiality of the judiciary, judicial institutions and members of the judiciary. [However, when] Political, ideological and cliquey interests become sovereign within the judiciary, then it’s obvious that justice will not be served,” Erdoğan said in a written message released Sept. 1, at an event marking the opening of the new judicial year for 2014-2015.

His message came as President Ali Alkan of the Supreme Court of Appeals warned against the executive body’s interference in the judiciary, which he dubbed as unacceptable and underlined the significance of judicial independence and in preserving the separation of powers. Alkan’s remarks also took place at the traditional ceremony held in Ankara.

“Having a judiciary free of politicization is a matter on which all parties shall lay stress on with sensitivity. However, for the judiciary, not to lose its impartiality, should also be the most sensitive and the most popular matter for all institutions and members of the entire judiciary,” Erdoğan said, referring to followers of the U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen who hold positions in the judiciary and police departments.

“All institutions and members of the judiciary should be extremely sensitive, careful and brave against those political, ideological and cliquey groups that try to enter and influence the judiciary and virtually try to take over the judiciary,” Erdoğan added.

“[We are all] equally responsible in the face of the initiatives of groups who try influencing the judiciary and try paralyzing the judicial system. Any kind of negligence or tolerance would pose an open unfairness for our country, our nation and our future goals,” he said.

As recently as last week, in a speech delivered at an extraordinary convention of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which gathered for the election of outgoing Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu as the new leader, Erdoğan slammed judges, particularly the Council of Presidents of the Supreme Court of Appeals, claiming they sided with the “parallel structure,” a reference Erdoğan and other government members use to refer to the followers of Gülen, his former ally.

“The struggle against this parallel structure that betrayed the country, as well as with bureaucratic tutelage, will continue decisively and bravely,” Erdoğan said, inviting Gülen to Turkey once again. “The legal system in Turkey cannot be a toy ... I believe our patriotic judges and prosecutors will clean the ‘hashashis’ in their ranks, removing the shadow cast on our legal system,” he added, likening Gülen’s followers to an Ismaili Shia sect that conducted assassinations during the Medieval era led by Hassan Sabah.

Executive interference 'unacceptable:' Alkan

The much-vaunted new era in Turkish politics has got off to a shaky start in Ankara, as neither Erdoğan nor Davutoğlu were present at the ceremony. Erdoğan was departing from Istanbul for an official visit to Turkish Cyprus, in line with state customs that require the new president to make their first trip abroad to either Turkish Cyprus or Azerbaijan. Davutoğlu was chairing the first-ever meeting of his Cabinet at the time when the ceremony was held, so Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ was therefore also absent.

Even before his trip was made public, Erdoğan had vowed not to attend any future meetings concerning the high judiciary in the event that Metin Feyzioğlu, the head of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) with whom Erdoğan is at odds, is on the list of speakers. Despite Erdoğan’s defiance, the top court decided to include Feyzioğlu as a speaker at the Sept. 1 ceremony, pointing to “freedom of expression” as justification.

During his speech, the country’s top judge made clear that executive interference in the judiciary is “not acceptable.”

“The realization of the principle of the state governed by the rule of law, assuring human rights and protecting freedoms is only possible in democratic regimes. One of the indispensable principles of democracy is the separation of powers. The basic goal of this principle is to not allow the concentration of sovereignty in the hands of one person, one rank, and one power,” Alkan said in the ceremony, which saw the attendence the leaders of main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş.

“A judiciary under the sway of the executive body cannot be expected to fulfill genuine scrutiny against arbitrary and unlawful actions and operations. In such a system, it will not be possible to say that anybody’s rights and freedoms are under protection,” Alkan added.

His remarks came at a time when there are widespread concerns over whether new Erdoğan will cement a kind of one-man rule, after repeatedly making clear that he aims to take on an executive role in the presidential palace rather than the largely ceremonial role so far cast for the head of the state.

‘Attempts made in the HSYK elections lead to concern’

According to Alkan, Turkey has not yet been able to reach the standards of judicial independence that exist in “democratic states governed by the rule of law,” despite the fact that the separation of powers and judicial independence have been common themes in speeches made at the opening of judicial years since 1943.

“Representatives of the executive body [often] announce to the public that a police operation could be conducted in the judiciary, although there is no such instruction by the related investigative authorities,” Alkan said.

“Attempts to put pressure on judicial institutions in order to design the judiciary arbitrarily, as well as attempts regarding elections that the judiciary will hold internally are being met with concern,” Alkan added, in apparent reference to the upcoming elections at the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).

Last week, delivering speeches at an extraordinary convention of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which gathered for the election of outgoing Foreign Minister Davutoğlu as the new leader, both Erdoğan and his successor remarkably touched upon the importance of the upcoming election of new HSYK members.

Davutoğlu suggested that the “parallel structure” of Gülen-affiliated judges planned to dominate the HSYK, members of which will change with an election in October when the current members’ term in office expires.

In February, a government-led law transferred significant powers from the HSYK to the Justice Ministry.

The bill was criticized at the time for increasing the government’s power over the justice system and is seen as part of the government’s efforts to cover up the corruption and graft probe launched in December.

Although the Constitutional Court partly overturned the controversial judicial bill in April, demanding a redefinition of the justice minister’s increased competences, it also led to some uncertainties, as a number of HSYK members had immediately been dismissed after the law entered into force in February New members were subsequently appointed with Bozdağ’s final approval, one of the controversial extraordinary competences introduced with the new law.

“Mistakes in judicial decisions should be expected to be eliminated within the judiciary’s own scrutiny system. These matters should not be turned into excuses for interfering in judicial independence. Recently, amendments made in the Law on the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors, as well as attempts to interfere in the judiciary, have the tendency to increase problems, rather than resolve them,” Alkan said in his Sept. 1 speech.