As the legal year starts in Turkey

As the legal year starts in Turkey

Turkey’s legal year will start on Sept. 2 through a ceremony to be held at the Presidential Palace under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and with the participation of senior justice members as well as the head of the Turkey’s Bar Associations, Metin Feyzioğlu.

The heads of the some 40 bar associations and the opposition parties have announced that they won’t attend the ceremony because the event will be held at the Presidential Palace in a clear violation of the principle of the separation of powers.

Both Erdoğan and Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül issued separate statements on the start of the legal year. Erdoğan’s emphasis was on the continued fight against FETÖ by recalling how its members in the past had seized control of the judicial system. He stressed the need to stay alert against political and ideological groups’ attempts to infiltrate into the judicial system. Reforming the judicial system will be an important task of the government, the president said but without mentioning the steps that need to be taken as part of the judicial reform strategy announced in late May 2019.

It was Justice Minister Gül’s statement that referred to this reform strategy document, which he described as the roadmap of the new legal year. He expressed his government’s commitment to put this strategy document into practice in line with the understanding of “accessible and credible justice.”

All the objectives and activities outlined through this strategy document will be materialized one by one on a democratic and pluralistic environment and with the participation of all related institutions, the minister added.

“Whichever reform or regulation we make, it’s the implementation and the court rulings which will set a higher standard in regards to judicial services,” he said.

As you may remember, the reform strategy document outlines nine main titles, 63 aims and 256 actions to deliver them. Out of these nine titles, protection and improvement of rights and freedoms; as well as improving independence, impartiality, and transparency of the judiciary; have the utmost importance as they correspond to the core of the judicial problems in Turkey.

Introduction of a new human rights action plan and changes on the key laws, such as on the terror law, are also expected in the coming period.

Minister Gül had suggested that all these promises would be materialized without delay, but so far not one important step has been taken. The government suggests that priority will be given to justice reform when the Parliament will be opened on Oct 1st.

A key point concerning all these debates is whether the reform package will bring about an independent and impartial justice system. Recent experiences we have observed show that the government still has broad influence on judicial decisions as key judicial bodies are still chaired by the justice minister.

Reforms would only be meaningful if the government mulls over abandoning its influence on the judiciary through serious and sincere structural constitutional changes. A return to full implementation of the separation of powers would therefore be the greatest reform this government could carry out. This is what we need for judicial independence and ultimately for our democracy.

Serkan Demirtaş,