Judicial Reform Strategy Document Process: Since 2019

For now, the reform only became visible as packages or bag bill. Because at the same time, violations of rights and systematic attacks on rights defenders continue.

It was claimed that the Judicial Reform Strategy Document [hereinafter the JRSD], which was announced by the President himself on May 30, 2019, had a guiding value on judicial reform. In this document, it was stated that the strengthening of democracy and the development of rights and freedoms were of great importance. First, the indispensability of freedom of expression within human rights was emphasized, and ‘implementation’ was taken as the primary criterion. Despite the efforts to improve the legislation and change the mindset in the past, it was clearly accepted that there was not sufficient or expected improvement in practice.

In the introduction of the document, a perspective was presented for a system based on the rule of law, where rights and freedoms can be protected, the independence and impartiality of the judiciary can be ensured, a rational, ideal, transparent, simple process, justice can be accessed, and judicial results can be obtained in a reasonable time. It was explained that this perspective was directly related to seeing European Union membership as a strategic goal and expressing commitment to the accession process.

In the Principles and Values section, the development of a human-oriented service approach, the more effective protection and development of rights and freedoms, the improvement of the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, the strengthening of legal security, the facilitation of access to justice, the observance of the right to a trial within a reasonable time, and the increase of trust in the judiciary were discussed separately.

In order to have such a system, it was announced that an Action Plan would be prepared, annual monitoring reports would be published by the Ministry of Justice, a Judicial Reform Strategy Monitoring and Evaluation Board would be formed, and the reports would be shared with the public, while listing a total of 9 objectives, 63 targets and 256 activities.

The objectives set forth in the JRSD are ‘protection and development of rights and freedoms’, ‘improving the independence, impartiality and transparency of the judiciary’, ‘increasing the quality and quantity of human resources’, ‘increasing performance and productivity (target time)’, ‘improving the right to defend effectively’, ‘provision of justice’, ‘facilitating access to justice and increasing satisfaction with services’, ‘increasing the effectiveness of the criminal justice system’, ‘simplifying and increasing the efficiency of civil and administrative proceedings’, and ‘disseminating alternative dispute resolution methods’.

The Ministry of Justice announced the Human Rights Action Plan on March 2, 2021, claiming that it was prepared with the vision of ‘Free Individual, Strong Society: A More Democratic Turkey’. This plan covers the activities of all ministries and public institutions and organizations, as a continuation of the reform will expressed in the 11th Development Plan and the JRSD.

It is seen that the President published a circular numbered 2021/9 and dated 04.29.2021 in the Official Gazette on April 30, 2021. With the circular, it was stated that the Human Rights Action Plan, which was prepared to cover the two-year period between 2021 and 2023, was written in a concrete way in terms of aims, targets and activities, for the Implementation Plan, short (1-3 months), medium (6 months-1 year) and it was pointed out that long (2-year) term processes were determined and the expectation was expressed for sensitive and responsible behavior in order to comply with the plan. The task of preparing the said implementation calendar was given to the Ministry of Justice.

Meanwhile, the ‘Human Rights Action Plan Monitoring and Evaluation Board’ was also established. The chairman of the board is the President. Its task is pursuance and coordination. In other words, as the chairman of the board, the President himself will work to ensure that the Action Plan is implemented effectively and transparently. There is a limited list of members for the Board, including the vice president, some ministers (Justice, Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs, Family and Social Policies, Labor and Social Security, Treasury and Finance) and the vice president of the Legal Policy Board.

It is noteworthy that there are no civil society representatives among the members. However, when needed, the representatives of the relevant institutions can be invited to the meetings in order to consult their opinions.

The ministries named as board members will prepare a report every four months and send it to the Ministry of Justice. The ‘annual implementation report’ will be sent to the Ombudsman Institution and the Human Rights and Equality Institution of Turkey, and they will present their evaluations of the report to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the President. The final version of this report will be announced to the public by the President himself.

In this context, what has been done under the name of reform so far? Four packages were prepared containing bag of law amendments ‘on the amendment of some laws’.

In addition to minor improvements, there are two interesting points that stand out in the contents of the packages:

It is possible to characterize the first of these as ‘return to what we gave up’. The legislator, dipping his hand into his magic bag, re-updates the past trials for reform. The best example of this is the criminal decree that rejoined us with the Criminal Procedure Codes (CMK) articles 250 and 252 after the ‘first package’. (Criminal decree is the name given to the institution where the prosecutor determines the sanction, and the judge only examines this sanction.)

While criminal and criminal procedure laws were ‘rewritten’ in 2005, the administration was content with issuing criminal decrees, and the prosecutor’s office and courts were given up on criminal decrees within the criminal procedure. With the first package of the Judicial Reform brought before us today, Articles 250 and 252 of the CMK have been rearranged, and this authority has been given to the prosecutor’s office and the criminal courts of first instance. The government is restoring the system that changed in 2005 with a ‘new’ judicial reform.

The second is that the wind blowing from Strasbourg is still effective on the political power. In individual applications that are currently being examined by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and are about to be adjudicated, legal arrangements that can be called retouching or wordplay, which can be considered as a show, are made in applications where there is a signal that a violation decision will be made against Turkey. It is as if, in a sense, the message ‘we saw the problem, we are fixing it’ is given to the Strasbourg-based Court.

Under the name of reform, will we be able to go beyond ‘repeating ourselves’ and returning in the same vicious circle? We are not sure.

For now, the reform only became visible as packages or bag laws. Because at the same time, violations of rights and systematic attacks on rights defenders continue.

With the judicial reform process, three packages have come to the Parliament so far and they have been accepted.

Package 1: Law No. 7188, superior time for detention in investigation, rapid trial, simple trial

Package 2: Law No. 7242 dated 04/14/2020, criminal execution regime change

Package 3: Law No. 7251 dated 07/22/2020, Amendment to the Code of Civil Procedure

On Tuesday, June 6, Package 4 was sent to the Turkish Parliament.

You can reach the 2nd part of the news, ‘Judicial Reform Strategy Document Process: Content of the Fourth Package’ here, and the 3rd chapter, ‘Judicial Reform Strategy Document Process: Reflections on the Proposal…’ here.