AKP bill to bypass defense lawyers in court verdicts amid reactions

AKP bill to bypass defense lawyers in court verdicts amid reactions

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
AKP bill to bypass defense lawyers in court verdicts amid reactions

This photo shows a press meeting held by a group of lawyers who recently protested the Balyoz court delegation in Istanbul. AA photo

Two ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies have drafted a bill that would allow the courts to announce verdicts in the absence of defense lawyers, drawing angry reactions from the opposition.

The proposal, submitted to Parliament on May 17, is seen as a counter-move against the lawyers in the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup case, who have blocked the proceedings by boycotting the hearings on grounds that the defense’s rights are being systematically breached.

In remarks to the Hürriyet Daily News, one of the proposal’s authors, Şuay Alpay, defended the draft, saying it did not target a specific court case. “There is no specific motive behind the bill,” he said.
According to the draft, judges will be able to announce verdicts in the absence of defense lawyers if the attorneys do not show up in court with a “legally acceptable excuse.” The authors argue that the absence of lawyers in complicated cases “blocks the announcement of verdicts and causes the unnecessary protraction of trials.”

Last month, the lawyers of defendants standing trial in the Sledgehammer case made a collective decision to boycott the hearings, on the grounds that their clients’ right to a defense and a fair trial were being violated, and filed a complaint against the judges. The row erupted after the court refused to take into consideration expert reports suggesting that key digital evidence implicating the suspects was fabricated.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) harshly condemned the proposed amendment as an affront to the fundamental principles of law.

“The special-authority court [handling the Sledgehammer case] violated the right to defense. The AKP, on the other hand, is attempting to bypass defense altogether. This is unacceptable. In which EU country can a court announce its verdict in the absence of the defense? They are ridiculing us,” the CHP’s Umut Oran told the Daily News.

The draft also flouts an agreement reached recently at Parliament’s Justice Sub-Commission to lift all limits on the application of judicial control measures, as an alternative to pre-trial detention. The agreement, which came as part of discussions on a package of judicial reforms, had raised fresh hope for the release of the eight jailed lawmakers. But under the AKP proposal, only suspects charged with offenses punishable by up to five years in jail could benefit from such measures. Under current laws, the limit is three years. Alpay said the five-year limit in their proposal might be subject to change during the parliamentary debate.