Judicial reform package faces criticism
While the government's reform package may be better than nothing, the opposition and legal experts say it falls short of the broad overhaul needed in the judicial system.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 25/01/12
Aimed at resolving some of the most criticised elements of the country's judicial system, the AKP government unveiled a reform package of 87 articles, addressing in particular two major issues: lengthy trials and long pre-detention periods.
An overburdened judicial system and long pre-trial detentions are only some of the problems facing the legal system. [Reuters]
The package was submitted to the prime minister's office by the Justice Ministry on Monday (January 23rd), and will soon be brought to the floor of parliament. Government officials say the changes will affect about 2 million current cases.
The amendments include reducing sentences for those who assist, but do not belong to, terrorist organizations -- providing concrete evidence against suspects before jailing them, expunging criminal records after 30 years, which is now maintained until an individual's death or 80 years after a crime, and speeding up procedures for cases involving bankruptcy, writing bad cheques and stealing electricity.
Government officials claim that the changes will improve the country's overburdened legal system.
The opposition, however, maintains that the proposals do not address the scale of the problems facing the judicial system, which has been accused of being slow, unfair, politicised and at times ideological.
Pro-Kurdish BDP legislative group deputy-leader Hasip Kaplan says that the new package mostly contains a number of cosmetic initiatives, while it lacks key amendments that would have given increased rights to Kurds, such as the right to present evidence and defend in Kurdish in courts.
"Special authority courts weren't abolished, it doesn't provide for fair trials, secret wire-tapping and secret investigations were not abolished," he adds. "You can't call this reform."
Kaplan says the government's reform package would not prevent new waves of arrests of Kurdish activists, politicians, and journalists who have been put on trial for "aiding terrorists" in the ongoing Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) case.
Overall, he says the judicial system is broken and heavily politicized; serious flaws continue to have a negative effect on freedoms in the country.
Some from the far-right opposition, such as MHP deputy leader Oktay Vural, are worried how the bill may affect Turkey's struggle against terrorism, especially how it may benefit those who "assist" but are not members of terrorist organisations, namely the PKK.
Vural also argues the government's previous reforms failed, pointing to when the leadership of "Kurdish Hizbullah" were released from prison last year -- only to slip into hiding a few days later -- because of a loophole in criminal law.
Now, he says, "[PKK leader Abdullah] Ocalan's requests are being fulfilled."
For Ali Riza Ozturk, CHP's MP justice commisser, the AKP government should first prove it is sincere regarding an independent and impartial judicial system, before drafting its reform package.
He says the government has for a long time ignored local and international commitments.
CHP believes that there is "systemic dysfunction in the legal system", especially in areas such as pre-trial detentions and judicial proceedings that need to be addressed clearly.
"This packet has nothing to do with speeding up the judicial process," Ozturk says, arguing that most of the amendments are either repeating what is already in the current law, or just calling the crimes by a different name.
However, Harun Tufekci, AKP's MP justice commissioner, says the reforms will make the judicial system fairer and faster.
"This package is an important step to solve daily problems in the implementation [of law]," he told SES Türkiye, adding that the amendments aim to address general deficiencies, not particular group or opposition's interests.
Professor Osman Dogru of Marmara University's Faculty of Law says the government shouldn't ignore the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner's recent recommendations to Ankara while drafting its judicial reform package.
Reminding that the government had previously passed two judicial reform packages, he told SES Türkiye that progress in the legal system is possible, but that instead of piecemeal reform a radical overhaul of the whole system is needed.