Gov’t forced to make overhaul in judiciary

Gov’t forced to make overhaul in judiciary

Gov’t forced to make overhaul in judiciary

Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin speaks at a press conference yesterday in Ankara. The minister announced the government’s proposals to speed up the judicial process. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

Government yesterday announced a series of planned reforms to speed up the justice system under growing pressure over lengthy pre-trial detentions, but the opposition and jurists have cast doubt on whether the package can change things on the ground.

Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said government had taken into account the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against detention practices in Turkey, but he did not say when the package would be submitted to Parliament.

“Once enacted, the amendments would reduce the number of people who await trial in jail,” he said, adding that judges would be required to provide concrete justification for arrest orders and would be able to use alternative measures, such as judicial control, for a wider range of offenses.

Turkey’s long pre-trial detentions have been the subject of much criticism recently, as nearly half of those behind bars are not yet convicted of any crime.

The prospective reforms would also aim to widen media freedoms, Ergin said. A provision that allows for the suspension of publications on grounds of “terror propaganda” will be abolished, and confiscation orders for publications will be removed after a transition period, he said.

An amendment to reduce the jail term for those who “assist terrorist organizations” is also included in the package.

The reforms would suspend all probes into offences committed via the media that are punishable with jail terms of up to five years, Ergin said. If the same offense is not re-committed within three years, the cases would be scrapped for good.

The package aims to relieve the courts of the huge burden related to relatively minor crimes such as driving offenses, check fraud and clandestine electricity use. Such breaches would be penalized with fines and the courts would be relieved of about two million cases, the minister said.

President Abdullah Gül welcomed the reform plan. “I hope the new bill will bring a solution to lengthy detentions. As far as I can see, the amendments serve this aim,” Gül told reporters.

Critics voice skepticism

The head of the Ankara Bar Association, Metin Feyzioğlu, played down the measures as “eyewash,” arguing that they would not shorten detention periods on the ground. The journalists who have been put on trial are not charged over their professional activities but for being terrorists, Feyzioğlu said.
“What will change if they amend the press law while the journalists are behind bars for terror-related acts?” he said.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy group chair, Emine Ülker Tarhan, said the reforms wouldn’t relieve the judiciary in the short-term.

“An accelerated judicial system is not a method to achieve justice. I hope accelerated justice will not lead to disasters, like a high-speed train,” she said.

Hasip Kaplan of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) also slammed the package, arguing that it included no amendments to secure fair trials. The problems will persist as long as the special-authority courts continue to function under government control, he said.

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