Turkish government moves for more control on judiciary

Turkish government moves for more control on judiciary

Turkish government moves for more control on judiciary

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ has moved to block an initiative of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) to examine certain prosecutors and the Istanbul police chief. AA photo

The ongoing battle between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Hizmet movement of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen is continuing within the judicial theater as the government has submitted a draft law to increase its control over justice at the cost of EU ire.

The move to reshape the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) came only three years after the AKP government reformed the body in line with the EU’s advice.

Signed by AKP lawmakers, the draft law proposes amendments to the structure of the 22-member HSYK, the key judicial body responsible for appointments and other personnel-related issues in the judiciary. It restructures three chambers of the HSYK, while making the justice minister the sole authority able to appoint a new board and set the council’s agenda.

Likewise, it also resets criteria for being selected as a member of the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Justice Academy as part of a government attempt to wrest full control over key judicial bodies. The government-initiated draft law will be discussed at a parliamentary subcommission tomorrow before being sent to the General Assembly.

Responding to criticisms that the draft law violated the constitutional principle of judicial independence, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ argued the bill was in line with Article 159 of the Constitution that underlines the structure and duties of the HSYK. 

“We can work together with the opposition to make the HSYK function better, including an option for the Parliament to select its members,” he told reporters yesterday. 

The government moved to increase control over the HSYK after the board said it found a governmental decree changing law enforcement procedures unconstitutional. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan harshly slammed the council, saying the statement amounted to intervention in an ongoing case, as the decree had already been taken to the Council of State. The suspension of the execution of the decree by the Council of State further fueled the government’s anger. 

But the government’s draft drew strong reactions from opposition parties, EU officials and judicial bodies, which all criticized the move as a step to curb judicial independence.

EU expresses concerns

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, said the proposals to curb the HSYK’s powers represented a serious setback for the independence of the judiciary in Turkey via Twitter.

But the EU’s reaction was not limited to the move against the HSYK’s independence, as the EU’s executive also expressed concern yesterday about developments in Turkey, where the government is embroiled in a massive graft scandal that has triggered a purge of the police. Asked to respond to events in Turkey, a spokesman for the European Commission said “recent developments” in the country were “a cause of concern.”

“We urge Turkey, as a candidate country committed to the political criteria of accession, including the application of the rule of law, to take all the necessary measures to ensure that allegations of wrongdoing are addressed without discrimination or preference in a transparent and impartial manner,” said a commission statement. “Any action which undermines the effectiveness of investigations into these allegations should be avoided.”

Opposition is furious against the move 

The AKP aspires to turn the state into “a party state,” and the judiciary into a “party judiciary,” Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Oktay Vural said, maintaining that the bill introduced by the AKP lawmakers was a de facto “coup attempt.”

Vural, speaking at a press conference in Parliament yesterday, inquired about the reason for drafting such a bill. “Why was such an arrangement not made yesterday, but today? Because there are operations and investigations being conducted about bribery and corruption. The police and the judiciary are being fettered. This is a de facto coup attempt; it is obvious that it is against the Constitution,” Vural said. 

According to the MHP lawmaker, the government has floated the debate on a “parallel state” in order to cover up bribery and corruption. Yet, the government itself is actually establishing a new parallel state within state which will prevent the prosecution of illegal affairs and actions.

Haluk Koç, deputy leader and the spokesperson of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said such moves are only in dictatorships and underlined they will not allow the AKP to turn this country into a undemocratic place. “They are trying to violate the constitution through legal amendments. This is purely a violation of the constitution. We will take this law to the Constitutional Court, if passed,” he stressed at a press conference yesterday.