Turkey’s judicial reform should bring about a mentality change

Turkey’s judicial reform should bring about a mentality change

Serkan Demirtaş

A much-anticipated Judicial Reform Strategy was declared by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on May 30 with the participation of almost all the stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations, Turkey’s Bar Associations, and other relevant bodies. The making of this strategy document lasted around eight months as the Justice Ministry sought to consult with the Council of Europe and scores of national organizations.

As Erdoğan stated, the reform strategy document initially addresses three top issues: First and foremost, it wants to respond to the growing calls for justice by the Turkish people. Reinstating the sense of justice seems to be the primary objective of this strategy.

Second, it is meant to help ameliorate the conditions for foreign investments, which Turkey dearly needs to increase in the coming period.

Third, this reform strategy is a renewed commitment to Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union, despite ongoing deeply-rooted problems between Ankara and Brussels.

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 important as they correspond to the core of the judicial problems of Turkey.

The rest is about steps to strengthen the judicial system through a number of concrete measures on increasing the quality of judicial human resources, enhancing performance and productivity, ensuring efficient use of the right to self-defense and so on.

As for the improvement of rights and freedoms, the strategy document promises provisions on the legislation on freedom of expression and other freedoms so that their scope could be expanded while underlining that a review on legislation and the application regarding the custody, detention and other measures will be started. That would help end long imprisonment durations which have turned into a new form of punishment.

Raising sensitivity for human rights in the judiciary

Another objective cited in the document is about a new Human Rights Action Plan. It is under construction and expected to be revealed very soon, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recalled.

One other very significant objective is to raise sensitivity for human rights in the judiciary. Activities to this end will include benefiting from verdicts of the Constitutional Court and European Court of Human Rights, considering the monitoring reports of the international protection mechanisms, functioning in the field of human rights and improving cooperation with national and international non-governmental organizations working on the field of human rights.

An intensified training process for judges and prosecutors along with the ECHR and Constitutional Court lines is also envisaged by the strategy document.

On judicial impartiality and independence, a remodeling of the system for the appointment, transfer, and promotion of judges and public prosecutors based on merits is introduced as the most important objective. Apart from many other steps, the introduction of geographical guarantee for the judges and public prosecutors with certain professional seniority is the most visible one. That is interpreted as an assurance for this judicial personnel to deliver their jobs without fear of indirect punishment by authorities.

However, according to experts, these measures would not suffice to ensure judicial impartiality and independence. In the same way with the judges and prosecutors, efforts to raise the sensitivity for human rights and freedoms should also include senior politicians as well.

Eyes will be on legislation, implementation

This move by the Turkish government is important on three main grounds: First, after so many years, it constitutes a first reformist move by the government in line with the expectations of the EU.

Second, it addresses one of Turkey’s most fundamental problems by powerful promises on the expansion of the use of rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly on the freedom of expression.

Third, the commitment to be displayed by the government in materializing this strategy document through swift legislation and efficient implementation will turn into a new litmus test in regards to its sincerity over fundamental rights and freedoms.

Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül promised that all the measures explained at the document will be legislated without delay but also described the implementation of it as vital.

The judicial reform strategy is a step taken in the right direction. But it goes without saying that it needs to be followed by more concrete steps at the legislation and implementation phases. Consistent with these promises cited at the strategy document, a holistic approach for a complete change in the mentality at both judicial and governmental levels should also be considered for better results. Any effort that does not uphold a mentality change would, unfortunately, be destined to fail.

Abdulhamit Gül,