The relatively low level of recognized corruption in the judiciary in the first 60 years of the Turkish Republic has increased significantly in the past 20 years, according to a Global Corruption Report 2007 by Transparency International (TI).
According to TI's Global Corruption Report 2005, respondents gave the judiciary a score of four on a scale from one to five, where five is highly corrupt. The report commented that an increase in the number of scandals in the media involving judges and prosecutors supported this perception. The Turkish public now perceives the judicial system as the second most corrupt institution in the country after the Tax Department.
However, the report noted that the increase did not mean that the entire system is corrupt. "Indeed, the strongest criticism about its spread has been voiced by senior officials who are campaigning to root out corruption and place the judiciary in its rightful place as a cornerstone of integrity in society," it said. It also suggested changes to the Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges (HSYK) to which all judges and public prosecutors are attached and which has responsibility for ensuring the integrity of the judicial system. It criticized the fact that the HSYK's meetings take place in the Ministry of Justice, which serves as its secretariat, noting this as a serious divergence from the principle of judicial independence. The EU also made this point in a progress report on Turkey in 2005, it recalled.
In addition to political intervention, the report criticized the extent of immunity granted to members of the judiciary. "To protect their independence judges and prosecutors are entitled to immunity from investigation and trial for crimes, even bribery. This leads to serious abuse and the high council [HSYK] rarely lifts this immunity. Judicial immunity also sets a bad example to politicians and bureaucrats who often cite it as a pretext for their own claims to it," it noted.
It also criticized the misuse of expert witnesses in Turkish courts, quoting former Justice Minister Cemil Çiçek, who it said was "just one of many who have criticized the use of 'experts' (bilirkişi) in the legal system," as having said, "You can't fight against corruption if you have this 'expert report' system."
Because judges don't have the expertise to decide technical issues or the time to go to the scene of a crime and there is no pool of professionals to do it for them, judges accept the reports of private experts. Though many of their reports are patently false, judges rarely discount their testimony, the report observed.
"False expert reports are common in both ordinary and prominent cases due to bribery by the guilty party," it said, giving an obvious example of such an expert report that claimed that the provision of prostitutes, watches, diamond necklaces and cars to interested parties was not bribery. Another expert report led to the acquittal of the builders of a primary school dormitory that collapsed, killing 84 children, saying it was not due to "insufficient steel and cement in the construction, but because of the poor quality of local materials."
The report noted that a number of judges and public prosecutors have been imprisoned for accepting bribes and trying to influence courts over the past two years. Others forced to step down have included the head of the HSYK, members of the Council of State and the Supreme Court of Appeals' deputy secretary general.
The TI report praised Operation Scalpel (Neşter) carried out by Nuri Ok, a former chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, and other anti-corruption activists to clean up the system by pushing for further investigations of judicial corruption. "An increasing number of judges and prosecutors are under investigation," it said. However, it also noted that the prosecutor in Operation Scalpel was removed.
The report also complained that there is little political or institutional support for efforts to clean up the judiciary. The report also mentioned a new system being established in which court decisions and related documents are posted on the Internet. "Representatives of the judiciary are being sent to international conferences in a bid to familiarize themselves with international anticorruption standards, such as the Bangalore Principles and the Budapest Principles."
Other changes are urgently needed
The report recommended a number of changes in the judiciary. It called for reducing the politicization of the judiciary and allowing it the independence guaranteed to it by the Constitution. "This can best be achieved by altering the composition of the high council and making it easier to lift the immunity of judges. The minister of justice and his undersecretary must be persuaded to abdicate their membership to the high council [HSYK], which should be expanded through the inclusion of the chief prosecutor, other public prosecutors and possibly a lawyer," it said.
It also called on minimizing government interference in appointments, transfers and other judicial decisions by giving the Ministry of Justice a reduced say in drawing up candidate lists. The HSYK must be given a more autonomous position by having its own budget, secretariat and offices in a location separate from the Justice Ministry.
It also recommended that the private expert system be abolished and a regulated pool of public officials be assigned to assist judges with the technical information needed to determine case outcomes. There is also a need to improve the education of judges, prosecutors and lawyers, it added. The report also said the oath of judges and prosecutors should define the limits of their relationships with politicians and business interests.
The workload of Turkey's judges -- up to 60 cases a day -- should be reduced, the report said. Although it admitted that salaries for judges and prosecutors compared favorably with those of other civil servants, it said that the salaries were low for the members of the judiciary living in big cities.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 13 Aralık 2007, 10:02