Gradual conquest: Turkish gov’t aims to control high judiciary with new draft law

The Turkish government is set to gain control over the higher judiciary in Turkey through a new draft bill that will allow the government to bring more people loyal to itself into both the administrative and penal appeals courts.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ has said the government is working on a draft law in which eight new chambers will be added to the Supreme Court of Appeals and two new chambers will be opened in the Council of State.

Speaking on a news program on the NTV network, Minister Bozdağ noted that the Supreme Court of Appeals currently has 38 chambers, adding: “We [the government] are taking a step that will increase the number of members and chambers in the Supreme Court of Appeals, since the court’s high workload has made it necessary.”

The draft bill, submitted to Parliament on Friday with signatures from ruling party lawmakers, will increase the number of chambers in Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State and assign new members to the courts of appeal. The government has made it clear that it is not comfortable with the rulings rendered by courts of appeal in the higher judiciary and that it wants to consolidate the control it has already established in the lower courts.

After winning a majority in the elections for members of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) the Justice and Development Party (AK party) now wants to elect loyalist members to the additional chamber proposed in the bill. According to the billsubmitted to Parliament,the AK party will be able to assign 128 new members to the Supreme Court of Appeals and 39 members to the Council of State.

Experts have said the proposed draft bill, which shows signs of becoming an omnibus bill, will turn into a disaster for the future of Turkey’s judiciary. Ahmet Gündel, a former prosecutor, says the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State are currently independent of the government. Gündel went on to say, “This draft law has only one meaning: the government will take over the judiciary with this package.”

Gündel went on to say: “Both the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State have been known to make decisions independently of the government and that this has caused problems for the ruling party in the past. The government intends to use the HSYK to manipulate the lower courts and the new package to assign loyalists to spots in the higher judiciary. Unfortunately, we are going through a process whereby both the local courts and the higher judiciary are being subordinated to the government. There cannot be a bigger disaster for the country than this.”

The government already took over the control of the key judicial council, the HSYK, through the elections in mid-October. Members of the Unity in the Judiciary Platform (YBP), sponsored by the government, won the elections, raising concerns about increased partisanship in the judiciary.

The HSYK is the country’s key judicial council and is responsible for appointments, promotions and removal of personnel within the judiciary. Since a major corruption and bribery investigation became public on Dec. 17, 2013, the AK Party has been working to reshape the judiciary and justice system according to its desires so as to prevent the investigations from deepening and to halt the launch of similar probes.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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