Turkey's top judicial board confronts gov’t on move for more control

Turkey's top judicial board confronts gov’t on move for more control

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkeys top judicial board confronts gov’t on move for more control

The Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) is at the center of the battle over control of the judiciary.DAILY NEWS photo

On the day a parliamentary commission started debating a draft law to curb its powers to the advantage of the government, the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) issued a strongly-worded statement describing the move as “unconstitutional.” 

“With the legal amendment, the board will report to the Justice Ministry. This amendment is against the Constitution and the formation of an independent body,” the HSYK’s acting head, Ahmet Hamsici, said in a written statement on Jan. 10. 

Hamsici issued the 66-page long statement as an individual, as the government had already annulled the HSYK’s authority to issue statements without the consent of the justice minister. Despite the strong reactions against the proposed amendments by the HSYK and opposition parties, Parliament’s Justice Commission had already begun deliberations on the bill by late afternoon on Jan. 10. 

Just hours before the panel’s meeting, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek expressed his own concerns about the bill’s compatibility with the Constitution. “The first thing that the Justice Commission should look at is the proposed law’s compatibility with the Constitution,” Çiçek told reporters. 

According to Hamsici, with the proposed law the HSYK, which was recently reformed to be a more autonomous power, will be subordinate to the Justice Ministry and the executive branch. 

“This is in violation of the independence of this council, which was provided by a constitutional amendment,” he said. The HSYK was reformed in 2010 in line with European Union norms in a bid to strengthen the independence of the judiciary, a key principle for the maintenance of the rule of law.

Risk of 'politicization'

The government-drafted bill was also criticized by Hamsici on the following grounds:

- Many of the amendments it introduces contradict international documents and reports about the establishment of supreme judicial bodies like the Venice Commission, the Consultative Council of European Judges, and the European Networks of Councils for the Judiciary. 

- The new amendment allegedly aims at the transformation and politicization of the HSYK, undermining an efficient objection system, which is a key element for judicial independence. 

- As the justice minister will be the sole authority in selecting inspecting judges, deputy general-secretaries and members of the Inspection Council, the HSYK’s independence will be compromised. 

- The proposed law is against the constitutional principle of the rule of law. Article 138 stipulates the independence of judges, and direct or indirect interventions on this will be in violation of the Constitution. The Constitution also endorses the separation of powers, but the drafted law decorates the justice minister with significant and fundamental powers that normally belong to the Justice Board. The proposal will therefore make members of the board subordinate to the executive power. 

- Although international bodies often ask the government to restrict the authorities given to the minister and his undersecretary, the proposal is totally contrary to such recommendations. The minister’s authorities have been strengthened in an extraordinary way and he will effectively become the board’s sole authority. 

- If the bill is approved, the mandates of all HSYK members will come to an end, and the minister will have to appoint all new members within two or three days. Although the Constitutional Court would be able to suspend the execution of the law upon a quick application, this will have no meaning. The ruling party is aware of that neither the new nor the old form of the HSYK could exist under such conditions, but is still moving ahead with the plan.

The new plan comes only three years after the AKP government reformed the body in line with the EU’s advice, amid a graft scandal that targeted a number of high-ranking officials.