The saddening state of Turkish courts

The saddening state of Turkish courts

İsmail Rüştü Cirit is a senior judge chairing Turkey’s High Court of Appeals (Yargıtay). Speaking at a ceremony in Ankara on Sep 5, Cirit said the following: “The dismissal of judges and prosecutors who are members of terrorist organizations is a big achievement, but the fact that about a third of judges and prosecutors were involved in terrorist activities has made people lose confidence in the judicial system.”

Cirit was referring to the mass dismissals following the July 15, 2016 military coup attempt, thought to have been masterminded by the illegal network of U.S.-resident Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen. But the most important part of the remarks was in his last six words: “People have lost confidence in the judicial system.” He also said “the independence and impartiality of a legal system cannot be maintained without that confidence.”

These remarks contradicted somewhat with the remarks of Council of State (Danıştay) head Zerrin Güngör on Aug. 30, in which she claimed that the Turkish judicial system has “never been more independent.” She was reacting to the “Justice Conference” organized by the CHP on Aug. 26-29, which had aimed to “draw attention to injustice in all fields,” not only in the courts.

Cirit’s words actually confirmed a recent survey commissioned by President Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), which reportedly showed (and was not denied) that three-quarters of Turkish citizens have “no confidence” in the judicial system. 

However, Cirit declined to read part of the speech printed in the booklet given to hosts, including Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, at the ceremony for the opening of the 2017-18 judicial year in Turkey. He omitted the section of the speech in which he had originally planned to say: “The protection of basic rights and freedoms is linked to the separation and independence of the judiciary from the executive body and the government.” Instead, he continued with a sentence in which he asked for the salaries of Yargıtay and Danıştay members to be increased to the level of the salaries of members of Turkey’s Constitutional Court.

Constitutional Court head Zühtü Arslan was busy with two main issues on the same day. The first was the “Justice Watch” that has been initiated by members of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in front of the court’s headquarters in Ankara, demanding an immediate ruling on the situation of 10 jailed HDP MPs, including co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş. After insisting that Arslan allow them in for a meeting, HDP spokesman Osman Baydemir said the meeting was not a fruitful one. 

The second subject that Arslan was busy with was the reports and photographs showing him bowing in front of President Erdoğan on Aug. 30, during Victory day ceremonies. The photos were criticized by some law associations, as well as the CHP and HDP opposition, as evidence that the judiciary has lost its independence from the government. Arslan claimed that this was a “framing trick” against him, as he was simply showing respect to the president as the representative of the nation. But in fact neither Güngör nor Cirit showed their respect to the president by bowing in front of him during the ceremony.

The government, meanwhile, has implicitly admitted the current incapacity of the judicial system with a recent decree law calling on military judges and prosecutors of abolished military courts to return to serve in civilian courts. Explaining the decree, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül said it was necessary because of the lack of qualified judges and prosecutors.

In terms of the general state of the justice system, a recent report showed that the number of convicts who have been released on probation - because of overcrowded prisons - has reached 353,749.

Apparently, while many politicians and journalists are still being kept in jail, child abusers have been released on probation.

Unfortunately, the situation at the moment does not really confirm the words of former justice minister and current Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ, who recently claimed that Turkish courts are operating “much better than those in the European Union and the U.S.”

The current situation of the Turkish justice system really is saddening; it is certainly one of the most serious problems in Turkey and something has to be done about it.