Turkey’s efforts to reform justice should be substantial

Turkey’s efforts to reform justice should be substantial

The European Union-Turkey High-Level Political Dialogue Meeting, which normally has to convene every six months, has taken place in the Turkish capital after a 16-month break with the participation of EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn hosted by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. 

Although the meeting was very useful in allowing both sides to have communication channels open and to engage in frank dialogue, once again, it has resurfaced the main divergences between Ankara and Brussels, particularly on judicial issues as well as on fundamental freedoms and rights.

The quarrel between Mogherini and Çavuşoğlu during the joint press conference over the latest ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the continued detention of Selahattin Demirtaş, former chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), reflected only one aspect of this divergence.

“It is in the interest of Turkey to follow up on the Court’s decisions. Turkey has always been an important part of the European architecture on human rights and judiciary. We simply expect this to happen. When there is a decision or ruling by the Court—which is quite an unprecedented one—I think that it is a matter for the Turkish authorities, including for the judiciary, to follow it up in the appropriate manner. So this is our expectation,” Mogherini said.

Her comments were on a question on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement that Turkey will not comply with the court’s decision although Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution stipulates “international agreements duly put into effect have the force of law.”

“In the case of a conflict between international agreements, duly put into effect, concerning fundamental rights and freedoms and the laws due to differences in provisions on the same matter, the provisions of international agreements shall prevail.”

Many legal experts assessed that Turkey’s objection to the ruling was inconsistent with this said article of the Turkish constitution. Additionally, it is also inconsistent with the government’s announced promises with regards to the Judicial Reform Strategy.

The statement issued after the Reform Action Group meeting in late August had heralded that the “Judicial Reform Strategy will be updated with the participation of all stakeholders, the Turkish legal community and civil society. Updating of the new Judicial Reform Strategy is planned to be completed by the end of 2018.”

“The principles and assessments of the EU, the Council of Europe and other international organizations as well as the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will be taken into consideration in the drafting process. The aim of the new Strategy is to further enhance trust in the judiciary, improve access to the justice system, increase its effectiveness and provide better protection for the right to trial within a reasonable time.”

In line with the instructions given by Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu and Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül, a working group has been established by the technocrats from two ministries on the purpose of drafting the judicial reform strategy in a way to meet required standards of the EU and Council of Europe. Plus, there is also ongoing cooperation with relevant officials from the CoE to the same end.

A Turkish official has recently explained to this columnist that the motive of all these initiatives was to leave all the problems—like the long detention periods—stemming from the judiciary behind and to adopt an impartial, independent justice system in Turkey.

This prerequisite seems to be well understood in the government but there are still major problems in addressing them in an adequate way: The bureaucratic resistance and the absence of a strong political will. In fact, they are intertwined with each other.

There is also another untold risk of this ongoing governmental work on judicial strategy. Should this mission of reforming justice fall short of meeting required standards of the CoE and EU, the credibility and the perception of the government risk being tarnished further.

The government must be aware that the justice reform strategy will play an important role in reversing its negative image in the world if it can introduce universally adopted standards to the Turkish justice system. The opposite, however, will mean missing a very good opportunity.

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