Tomorrow, Thursday September 1, 2022, the judicial year commencement ceremonies will be held again. The presidents of the higher appellate courts and most probably the president of the Republic and the minister of justice will make speeches. But the president of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations will not be allowed to speak, and other stakeholders of the judiciary and representatives of society thirsting for justice will not even be present in the hall: they will learn about the speeches from the media.
The president and the minister of justice will speak of how they have built modern courthouses, how the National Judiciary Informatics System (UYAP), which is far behind its contemporaries, is an advanced system, how they have doubled the number of judges and prosecutors, how they have concluded tens of thousands of cases through mediation and reconciliation outside the judiciary. The presidents of the Court of Cassation and the Council of State will complain through social media about the workload, difficult working conditions, low salaries, pressure and habitual issues facing the judiciary.
No one will state that the judiciary does not have sufficient capacity, means, modern procedures or competence, that it is unable to carry out its natural and ordinary duties, that taking a six-week judicial vacation is an aristocratic practice that wastes resources and causes delays, or that leave and appointments can be managed without the judiciary being on vacation altogether.
Bitter truths will be covered up
It will not be discussed that the state does not trust the judiciary, that the judiciary cannot investigate crimes committed by public officials whose administrative superiors and ministers do not give permission for an investigation, that public officials suspected of responsibility in relation to the Soma mine explosion and the Pamukova train accident were not brought before the judiciary, or that innocent civil servants can be dragged through the courts. It will not be revealed that the bureaucracy, which is trapped between the two lips of politicians, has lost its function as the pillar of the state and the guarantor of stability in governance, and that this situation creates suitable grounds for arbitrariness and corruption on the one hand, and, on the other hand and more importantly, poses the danger of crypto-politicians completely taking over the state organization.
No one will mention the fact that judicial services are of the poorest quality and public service at its most disrupted, that despite the Reform Strategy documents of 2009, 2015 and 2019, these issues still have not been resolved, or that this situation prevents us from moving forward and increasing prosperity, condemning our country to the traps of middle income, middle democracy and middle education.
No one will mention either that the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) has become a fully dependent extension of the executive, that the rule of law has become seriously impaired vis-à-vis the executive, that the principle of separation of powers has de facto disappeared, that the appearance of an autocratic state has emerged instead of democracy, and that stability in state administration has deteriorated. It will be ignored that the country’s international image has declined to the level of “a hybrid system where freedoms are restricted” (according to the World Justice Project/WJP), that Turkey ranks 117th out of 139 countries in the WJP Rule of Law Index, and that our national income per capita has fallen from US$12.50 to $8.00.
Enough is enough: solutions must be discussed
During the judicial year ceremonies, it should be shouted loudly that in order for Turkey to reach advanced levels of democracy and transform its rich potential into prosperity, the judiciary must be made effective and efficient, transparent and accountable, and deserving of full independence; that the judicial system must turn the disputes that come before it into opportunities for development. Solutions must be discussed that will make the judiciary the driving force of society and develop it in a way that will make the greatest possible contribution to increasing prosperity.
A modern dispute management approach should be adopted. The ultimate goal of the judiciary should be to conciliate in disputes before they turn into lawsuits, to settle lawsuits in three to four months at the most, to re-establish solidarity and friendship between the parties, and to strengthen legal security.
The judiciary should concentrate on providing quality services, The number of courts should be reduced from around 7,000 to around 2,000, and a way should be found to provide more and better-quality services with less resources and costs. Social issues such as family, labor relations and consumer rights should be brought to the people, while complex economic issues such as partnerships, investments and supply chain relationships need to be mastered, especially in the centers of regions of development.
Judicial year commencement ceremonies should be an opportunity
In ensuring effective accountability and legal security, the judiciary should strengthen the bureaucracy against politicians, ensure stability in governance, and effectively prevent partisanship, nepotism and other abuses. The judiciary must limit power by law and must ensure and reinforce the ethical behavior of politicians and all public officials.
The judiciary should freely prosecute anyone who commits a crime, including politicians and civil servants, and effectively enforce the rule of law against anyone and everyone, thereby establishing law-abiding behavior in society, honesty and high morality in social and economic relations, discipline in doing business free of corruption and bribery, and confidence that contracts will be honored to the letter and personal rights and freedoms will be protected in all circumstances and without prejudice to their essence.
The commencement ceremonies of the judicial year should be transformed into a permanent assembly in which all stakeholders participate, where solutions to problems are produced and where opportunities are transformed into progress. Representatives from all segments and levels of the judiciary, non-governmental organisations and other judicial stakeholders should attend, while executive representatives should simply listen.
Turkey’s rule-of-law and judiciary problems must be solved rapidly, with an approach that is inclusive rather than exclusionary, reconciliatory rather than confrontational, and without prejudice. The judiciary must be made effective and efficient, transparent, accountable, and fully independent.
With the hope that the legal community and the public will contribute to the evaluation of the ceremony and the speeches to be delivered, I am honored to share with the public once again the proposals for Turkish Judicial Reform A to Z developed and published by the Better Justice Association, of which I am the president.