Will Erdoğan pass the ‘justice test?’

Will Erdoğan pass the ‘justice test?’

In this column, on March 1, I wrote “the Constitutional Court has remained as the last castle of free justice in Turkey as a credible body in distributing justice,” following the government’s move to increase its control on the judiciary through changing the structure of the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). 

In an effort to cover up corruption claims and make an efficient prosecution of graft suspects nearly impossible, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) initiated amending the HSYK’s structure in February, despite strong criticism from national and international circles. President Abdullah Gül had said he detected more than a dozen constitutional violations on the HSYK Law, but later approved it after securing ameliorations on its draft.

The law was taken to the Constitutional Court by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) for the annulment of its controversial provisions that violate fundamental principles of separation of powers and rule of law. The court on April 11 partially overturned the HSYK Law’s articles regarding new competences conferred to the justice minister. The government has to redefine the justice minister’s competences within six months.

The partial annulment of the HSYK Law follows a number of other verdicts issued by the Constitutional Court that angered the government with the recent ruling lifting the ban on Twitter coming on the top of the list. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was very harsh in criticizing the high court’s decision on Twitter when he described it “as serving only to the interest of an American company, instead of the national interests of Turkey.” He said he did not respect to the court’s decision, although he will implement it.

Similar reactions are likely to be voiced by government officials in the wake of the annulment of the HSYK Law. Deputy Prime Minister Emrullah İşler slammed the timing of this verdict, which he found “meaningful,” in an initial reaction to the Court’s decision.

The main question in Ankara, however, is whether the government would consider re-amending the structure and the duties of the Constitutional Court. They have expressed their deep disturbances with the way the court has been using the individual application system with hints that the scope for individual application to the high court could be narrowed.

Any effort to be exerted for a revanchist move against the Constitutional Court will be counted as another action taken by Erdoğan’s government to nix checks and balances within the Turkish system. Furthermore, it will be regarded as an illustration of Erdoğan’s authoritarian inclinations, especially on the very eve of the presidential elections.  (Let’s also recall other legislative plans to change the structure of two other supreme courts; The Supreme Court of Appeals and the Administrative Court.)

The Constitutional Court still remains the last castle of free justice in Turkey and the government should be well aware that any attempt to change this will further deteriorate their image in the world.