Shall we really believe that trials will last just one year?

Shall we really believe that trials will last just one year?

İSMET BERKAN
Let’s talk about some figures today. 

According to data provided by the Justice Ministry’s General Directorate of Criminal Records and Statistics, files were concluded in an average of 648 days in 2010 in the offices of specially authorized prosecutors. The investigation periods lasted almost two years before the indictments were written and forwarded to the courts. 

This figure, when compared to 905 days in 2002 and 946 days in 2006, is progress but, as you can see, it is too long. 

The workload of specially authorized courts is quite high. In these courts in 2010, a total of 86,800 people received final verdicts. Among this total, only 33,405 people received jail sentences. We are talking about a very low percentage of imprisonments. Out of 10 people tried in these courts, four were jailed in 2010. 

Think of it this way: The prosecutors have investigated for an average of 648 days but have obtained imprisonments in an average of just 38 percent. 

We will see in the future how jail sentences from these courts in 2010 are concluded in the Supreme Court of Appeals. But you can be sure that the percentage of imprisonments will drop. 
How many cases in total did our specially authorized courts hear in 2010? 

A total of 15,004 cases were heard; out of this, a total of 8,711 were concluded. In other words, 58 percent of the cases opened were closed. 

Well, how many days on average did these trials last? 285 days. Easier said than done: 285 days. Indeed, this is the average of all specially authorized courts. The longest average in terms of trials was in Istanbul courts, and that was 449 days. The shortest belongs to Van; it concluded cases in 179 days. 
Let’s summarize: Prosecutors investigated for an average of 648 days. Trials lasted 285 days on average. And out of 10 individuals, prosecutors were able to obtain jail sentences for only four of them. 

We do not know how many days on average these 10 people spend in prison during the investigation and prosecution phase. 

I think this is a horrific statistic. If the problems we are experiencing in the field of justice have transformed into major issues causing the questioning of our democracy and the democratic feature of our regime, it is beneficial to read these statistics very carefully and constantly keep them on the agenda.

The quality of investigations 

Since we are at it, let’s continue with figures: There has been a record increase in the number of people being investigated by specially authorized prosecutors since 2007. 

The number of investigated people had never reached 10,000 up until that year, but then all of a sudden in 2008, this figure reached 12,464 and 69,295 the next year in 2009. In 2010, prosecutors launched investigations into 68,108 people. 

What happened that our prosecutors suddenly started an investigation wave, I wonder. Whatever, the government knows the answer to this question. Let’s look closer at the 2010 figures. Some 68,108 people were investigated over an average rate of 648 days. Well, what happened to these 68,108 people? A civil lawsuit was opened for 53 percent, that is, 36,364 people. 

Do you see the system? You insert about 70,000 individuals into the system from the top; the police come, the prosecutors come, there are the courts, sentences, fingerprints, searches, etc., but then no cases are opened for almost half of these 70,000 people (47 percent). 

Meanwhile, there are also arrests and detentions, and these people await their fate in jail. Then there is the Supreme Court of Appeals phase where several jail sentences are reversed. The figure gets smaller and smaller.

No doubt, there is a major problem in this system. The problem has to be diagnosed clearly: The quality of the investigations carried out by our specially authorized prosecutors is far from “special.” 
The fact that half of the cases conclude with no jail sentences shows that either these people were unnecessarily charged or their charges could not be proved by prosecutors. 
In any case, unnecessary lawsuits are being opened for far too many people, and it seems as if our justice system is governed by the principle that the rain falls on both the just and the unjust.

iberkan@hurriyet.com.tr

İsmet Berkan is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece appeared on Jan 13. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

Turkey, judiciary, law, trials, ergenekon