World Bulletin / News Desk
Turkey needs to agree on and implement radical changes to its judicial structure in order to overcome the problems that face today's judiciary and courts, President Abdullah Gül has said.
Speaking to journalists at the Ankara Esenboğa Airport shortly before his departure to Yemen as a guest of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Gül shared his views on the current backlog in the judiciary that recently resulted in the release of 10 Hizbullah members convicted of the brutal torture and killing of 188 people.
The convicts were released because their appeals process was still ongoing, and a law that went into force on Jan. 1 limits the duration a person can be kept in prison while pending a first instance or an appeals trial to 10 years. The release of the Hizbullah convicts, all of whom have been in jail for at least 10 years, caused anger and frustration among the general public. Hizbullah in Turkey is not related to Lebanese group.
Radical reform is the only answer to this and other current problems in the judiciary, Gül told journalists while at the airport, sharing his views on the releases.
The president also noted that everyone in Turkey agrees reform is necessary, adding that reform has to include speeding up trial processes, meeting the needs of judges and prosecutors and modernizing the judiciary. He said the failure to realize reform in the judiciary has caused many unjust occurrences as well as mistakes and that reform has to be realized through the cooperation of all relevant agencies.
Gül said the number of people in prison pending trial is higher than the number of inmates who have actually been convicted, which he said “was not worthy” of a country like Turkey. He said lengthy trial processes have caused much injustice and unfairness.
"Complains of overwhelming workload"
The president's statements come at a time of unease about the release of dangerous convicts, such as the members of Hizbullah, due to changes that came into effect recently. Law No. 5320, which made changes to the implementation of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) and its Article 102, was enacted in 2005, but Article 12 clearly stated that it would come into force on Dec. 31, 2010.
The problems stem from the fact that in Turkey, only after the approval of the Supreme Court of Appeals, which combines the functions of courts of cassation and appeals, does the inmate under arrest become a convict. The opposite of regulations in most European countries, in Turkey the time between the local court verdict and the approval of the Court of Cassation is also considered as being under arrest.
The government says the judiciary had more than enough time to complete the appeal trials in murder and terror-related cases before the law was enacted. The high judiciary complains of an overwhelming workload. The government in return accuses the high judiciary -- specifically the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State -- of hindering every single move it has made in the past five years to lighten the judiciary's burden, such as setting up regional appellate courts, hiring more judges and prosecutors and adding new chambers to the Supreme Court of Appeals.
In related developments, Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin also made a statement. He was highly critical of the Supreme Court of Appeals and the high court's handling of the newly enacted CMK Article 102. “It saddens me to see the discussions around the judiciary. But no excuse can be a true replacement for success. Individuals and agencies who have assumed responsibilities on behalf of the nation should do their job perfectly,” he said.
Speaking to the press during a visit to the Parliament Correspondents Association to mark the Day of Working Journalists, celebrated on Jan. 10 in Turkey, Şahin said the people were not interested in hearing excuses in the fields of justice and the judiciary. “I am not blaming anyone. Whoever is responsible in this field should work together and take the necessary measures to alleviate the public reaction that has been shown because of these releases.”
“I am not looking for a culprit, I am looking for a solution,” he added.
He also noted that in 2010 alone, 15,000 court cases had been dismissed because they exceeded the time limitation imposed by the statute of limitations. In other words, these cases were dropped because too much time had passed since the start of litigation.
Meeting with students
Meanwhile, the president also shared his views on a luncheon he had last week with heads of student bodies from various universities.
In response to a journalist's question regarding criticism that the students he came together with last week did not represent the entire student population, Gül said: “Who is the president supposed to talk to? There are many associations, organizations and schools of thought that might all be equally legal and valuable. Which ones do you invite? I invited the presidents of student councils. They participate in senate meetings. I listened to their problems.”
He also said, however, that he will talk with other individuals and groups that might represent different student concerns.
The president then spoke about his trip to Yemen.
He said he will meet with Yemen's prime minister and foreign minister. A Turkey-Yemen business forum is scheduled to take place during Gül's visit and the president has said high-profile businessmen will be in attendance.
He said Turkish contractors had so far undertaken $1.5 billion in projects in Yemen, adding that Turkish businessmen accompanying him will have the opportunity to meet their Yemeni counterparts during the visit.
Turkey's Gul calls for radical judicial reform amid disputed releases
The president's statements come at a time of unease about the release of dangerous convicts, such as the members of Hizbullah, due to changes that came into effect recently.
World Bulletin / News Desk