In his censored speech, Turkey’s top lawyer: the most important issue is to ensure the independence and impartiality of the judiciary

With a press release, the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (UTBA) announced that its president Erinç Sagkan’s speech delivered at the opening ceremony of the new judicial year was censored.

Press release translated into English by the Arrested Lawyers Initiative is as follows:

Press Release UTBA - Arrested Lawyers

In his censored speech, Mr Sagkan underlined that problems about judiciary is not new in Turkey. He said:

“When we look at the previous judicial year opening speeches of the Presidents of the Union of Bar Associations of Turkey (UTBA), we are saddened and concerned to see that the problems concerning the judiciary in our country are not new, their roots are deep and old; fundamental policies have not however been produced to tackle those problems.

When our master and (former UTBA) President Eralp Özgen highlighted the non-implementation of the decisions of the Constitutional Court and described the problem of law faculties in the country as a “diploma printers” and said that this problem should be solved urgently, the year was 1998 and there were only twenty-six law faculties in the country. Today, there are eighty-nine law faculties in Turkey, pouring thousands of graduates every year into a system that is already choked. The problem of non-implementation of the decisions of the Constitutional Court, which our President drew attention to at that time, is now compounded by the non-recognition of some European Court of Human Rights judgements.

It was 2010 when our esteemed President Vedat Ahsen Coşar drew attention to the danger of detention turning from an exception to a rule and early execution. In the same speech, he emphasised the need to bring the fees of lawyers acting as compulsory defence counsel to the level of the minimum wage for lawyers. In the twelve years that have passed, we are still confronted with numerous instances where detention is used as a punishment rather than a measure. We are also at the stage where lawyers, whose remuneration for their labour is eroding day by day, have no patience left for the legal aid fees, which today sit near the thin borderline of the prohibition of drudgery that is prohibited in the Constitution.”

UTBA President Mr Sagkan, although they do not have access to numbers of imprisoned lawyers there are still many lawyers in prisons and detention centres of Turkey today. He said:

In a briefing in 2019, the Ministry of Justice stated that there were 354 lawyers in prisons and detention centres in 2016, 487 in 2017, 169 in 2018 and 143 in the first four months of 2019. We do not have access to data for the following years, but there are still many lawyers in prisons and detention centres today. .. we once again draw your attention to the fact that we find it unacceptable for courts to consider only professional activities or the exercise of democratic rights as a criminal case in judicial processes.

UTBA President Mr Sagkan stated:

Today, the most important issue regarding the judiciary in our country is to ensure the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and to establish the rule of law. .. The organisation of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), chaired by representatives of the executive, calls into question the existence of the principle of separation of powers. We are aware that the current structure of the HSK, including the method of member selection, is far from ensuring the guarantee for judges.

UTBA President Mr Sagkan also said:

Of the more than 70,000 applications pending before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), 22 per cent are cases against Turkey. The Republic of Turkey is, unfortunately, one of the countries against which the ECHR has the highest number of cases and judgements of violation. Turkey is the country with the highest number of violation judgments in terms of freedom of expression and more than one-third of the total number of violations of freedom of expression is related to Turkey.

The ECtHR and the Committee of Ministers initiated an infringement procedure for the second time in the history of the court, after Azerbaijan, due to Turkey’s failure to implement the ECtHR judgment; … This is a very serious picture. As the Union of Turkish Bar Associations, I would like to express that we consider the immediate implementation of the ECtHR judgements as a requirement of the principle of the rule of law and our commitments arising from Article 90/5 of the Constitution and Articles 46/1 and 19 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Related: Turkish Bar Associations boycott new judicial year opening at presidential palace (updated)

Categories: Situation in Turkey

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