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Turkey: New Amendments to Laws on Judiciary

(Mar. 10, 2014) On February 15, 2014, the Grand National Assembly (GNA) of Turkey passed an omnibus law (Law No. 6524 [in Turkish] (Feb. 15, 2014), GNA website) that amends the following four laws:

The amendments caused tension between Turkey’s main political parties during the GNA sessions at which the laws were discussed, and significant changes were made to the first draft before it was submitted to President Abdullah Gül for ratification. The amendments were approved by Gül on February 26, 2014, and sent to the Prime Ministry for publication in the Official Gazette. (6524 sayılı Kanun (Feb. 26, 2014), Presidency of Republic of Turkey official website.) The most hotly debated amendments are highlighted below.

Law No. 6087 on the High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors

The purpose of Law No. 6087 is to ensure that the High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors – whose main task is to oversee the promotion and transfer of, and any disciplinary proceedings against, judges and public prosecutors – is established, organized and functioning in compliance with the principle of judicial independence and the security of tenure of judges. (Law No. 6087, art. 1.)

The amendments to article 6 of Law No. 6087 require that the Chairman and the Deputy Chairman of the Inspection Board of the High Council, which undertakes inspections to determine whether judges and public prosecutors are carrying out their duties in accordance with the laws, be appointed by the Minister of Justice, who is, ex officio, the President of the High Council. (Law No. 6524, art. 23; see also Inspection Board, High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors official website (last visited Feb. 26, 2014).)

The amendment to article 36 of Law No. 6087 authorizes the Minister of Justice to conduct investigations of members of the High Council on disciplinary matters. (Law No. 6524, art. 37.) Accordingly, the Minister of Justice has the power to decide whether or not there is a sufficient basis to launch a disciplinary investigation proceeding against a High Council member; formerly, the responsibility for disciplinary investigations of High Council members belonged to the Plenary of High Council. Similarly, the amendment to article 38 shifts from the Plenary to the Minister of Justice the power to grant permission to conduct a criminal investigation of members of High Council. (Id. art. 38.)

Finally, under amendments included in a new provisional article 4, the Secretary-General of the High Council and his aides, the head of the committee of inspectors and his aides, and all inspectors and administrative staff working for the High Council will be removed from their jobs after the omnibus law is published in the Official Gazette. New appointments to those posts will be made by the Ministry of Justice within 10 days of the of the law’s publication, in accordance with the provisions of the amended Law No. 6087. (Id. art. 39.)

Law No. 2802 on Judges and Public Prosecutors

According to the amendment to article 49 of Law No. 2802, instead of the High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors, the Ministry of Justice will now be the competent authority for sending judges and public prosecutors abroad for educational purposes. (Law No. 6524, art. 1.) The new amendment to article 50 of Law No. 2802 gives the Minister of Justice the authority to assign judges and public prosecutors in diplomatic posts and international courts and organizations. (Id. art. 2.)

Law No. 4954 on the Turkish Justice Academy

The Turkish Justice Academy provides training for judges and public prosecutors, both before and during the performance of their jobs. The amendment to article 9 of Law No. 4954 requires that candidates for chairman of the Academy’s board be selected by the Minister of Justice and appointed by the Cabinet. The vice chairmen of the Academy will be directly appointed by the Minister of Justice. (Id. art. 7.) Formerly, candidates for chairman and vice chairmen of the Academy were selected by the Academy board and elected by the Cabinet.

Also, in-service training of judges and public prosecutors will now be conducted by the Academy and the procedures and principles of this training will be determined by the Academy, in consultation with the High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors. (Id. art. 3) By this amendment, the training activities of judges and public prosecutors were transferred from the High Council to the Justice Academy.

Concerns Raised

A number of the new amendments have raised concerns about preserving the principles of independence and impartiality enshrined in the Law on the High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors and about increased government control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors. Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement on February 21, 2014, calling on Gül to veto amendments that would curb the High Council’s independence. (Turkey: President Should Veto Judiciary Law, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH (Feb. 21, 2014).)

The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) (CHP website (last visited Feb. 26, 2014)), is expected to file a challenge to the omnibus law at the Constitutional Court to seek the law’s annulment (Turkish Main Opposition Takes Judicial Bill to Constitutional Court, HÜRRIYET DAILY NEWS (Feb. 26, 2014).)

Prepared by a Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Wendy Zeldin, Senior Legal Research Analyst.