Critics say Turkish government’s judicial reform package falls short

Turkish laws and their application have changed dramatically since the 2016 coup attempt and a subsequent two-year state of emergency, which has been partially extended through presidential decrees.

To address systemic issues and lingering inconsistencies in Turkey’s penal codes, members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) submitted the long-awaited first package of their Judicial Reform Strategy on Sept. 30.

The 39-article proposal aims to strengthen the independence of Turkey’s judiciary while fostering more transparency, efficiency and uniformity in legal procedures. Though human rights advocates and members of Turkey’s opposition parties support the attempt to reform the judicial system, many claim the provisions introduced this week will not achieve the government’s stated goals.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched the reform strategy in May 2019, stating that changes would be made to legislation covering judges, prosecutors, the length of pretrial detentions, counterterror laws and criminal codes.

“The judicial reform document will both increase the trust of our citizens in the system and help to create a more predictable investment climate,” Erdogan said in a speech unveiling the strategy. “With this document, we are putting forward new approaches in terms of reinforcing freedom of expression and carrying it a step further.”

Zuleyha Gulum, a lawyer and Istanbul deputy for the majority-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said she agreed the reforms were introduced to subdue pressure from Turkish investors, who complained of a lack of legal guarantees in the country, which they felt had stymied the domestic business climate and worsened the ongoing recession.

Gulum said the package is also being presented to soothe rocky relations with EU officials and business partners, who have been critical of Turkey’s mass purges and widespread application of anti-terror laws on political dissidents in the post-coup period. Yet she criticized the package for under-delivering on key issues.

“It is not right to call this a reform because the package does not have the changes to meet the current needs,” Gulum told Al-Monitor. “There are no regulations that will eliminate the damage caused by the state of emergency decisions, pave the way for the use of democracy and democratic rights, and ensure the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.”

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