Judicial reform package in Turkey to make pre-trial detention difficult

Judicial reform package in Turkey to make pre-trial detention difficult

Minister of Justice of Turkey Sadullah Ergin on Wednesday announced a new judicial reform package that, among many other things, aims to make it difficult for courts to issue detention orders for suspects before trial, Today's Zaman reported.

The package, which introduces nearly 100 amendments to the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK), the Counterterrorism Law (TMK) and the Enforcement and Bankruptcy Law, was designed to increase democratization in line with the standards of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and ease the judiciary's burden by accelerating judicial processes, Ergin said.

He added that the package introduces extra measures to lighten the heavy workload of the judiciary, which has failed to conclude thousands of cases in recent years. Ergin said if the new reforms are approved, they will influence nearly 2 million cases in Turkey. One major reform included in the package would make it more difficult for courts to issue detention orders for suspects.

Ergin said the courts will be required to cite concrete evidence in the case of strong suspicion of an individual having committed a crime and to explain why the arrest measure is necessary.

Long pre-trial detentions have recently been a much-debated and criticized issue in Turkey. In Turkey, a case takes five years on average to go through the judicial system, and there are many cases that have been pending for decades. This situation creates many problems with regard to human rights, especially if a suspect is eventually found innocent after a long period of detention. As of early 2011, there were approximately 57,000 inmates in prisons awaiting final decisions from the Supreme Court of Appeals. The government took a number of measures last year to speed up the judicial process and shorten detention periods. According to a change made to Article 102 of the CMK, the maximum detention period is three years for crimes under the jurisdiction of high criminal courts, while the maximum period of detention is one-and-a-half years for most crimes not under their jurisdiction.

After referring to the European Convention on Human Rights Article 6 on the right to be tried within a reasonable time, Ergin said Turkey has been penalized by the ECtHR due to violations of this article. "This third package, which can be considered as the continuation of efforts to speed up judicial processes thus far, has been drafted in order to make judicial services more efficient [in terms of time] by making changes to regulations on the penal code, bankruptcy and enforcement and administration laws," he said.

According to the package, individuals can submit all kinds of petitions to the related bureaus of administrative courts without having to wait for the judge, and those individuals will be given a free paper documenting the date of their submission. Cases dealing with issues that are valued at less than TL 50,000 will be finalized in regional administrative courts. Cases that appeal decisions made by supreme governing bodies such as the Energy Market Regulatory Authority (EMRA), Competition Authority (RK) and Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) will be heard in regional administrative courts.

The new package rearranges the duties of the Council of State Administrative Cases Bureau in an attempt to pave the way for the bureau to work continuously for three years. With the new system, roughly 6,000 appeal cases backlogged in the Council of State's chambers for administrative cases will be concluded within two years. If this reform doesn't come into force, the cases are expected to take more than 10 years to wrap up.

If the reforms come into force, criminal records, which are now maintained until an individual's death or 80 years after the crime, will be expunged after 30 years. Ergin said the criminal records of those who were convicted of petty crimes will be expunged after five years, while criminal records of those who were convicted of crimes against the state or disgraceful crimes will be cleared after 15 years.

Ergin added that the package also introduces changes to Article 6 and 174 of the TCK, which would classify Molotov cocktails as firearms and reduces sentences by half for those convicted of committing a crime on behalf of a terrorist organization without being a member of it.

With the reforms, public prosecutors will no longer be authorized to impose administrative fines on individuals who drive vehicles without drivers' licenses or with blood alcohol levels exceeding the legal limit in an attempt to decrease the prosecutors' workloads. This authority will be taken over by officials from governors' offices.

The package reclassifies some actions previously considered to be crimes as misconduct. According to the reforms, those who are captured after entering Turkey through illegal means and those who work as travel agents without an official license will be assessed an administrative fine instead of facing jail time. Those who commit petty crimes, including that of civil servants involved in private businesses, desecration of foreign countries' flags and misconduct in the burial of bodies, will not go to court for their actions, but they will receive a fine. However, the penalties for those with criminal records or who victimize another person will not change in this reform.

The crime of bribery is redefined in the reform to comply with the recommendations to Turkey from the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and with the standards specified in the Prime Ministry's action plan on corruption. If the package passes, bribery will be classified as a crime. A public official's receipt of a bribe is classified currently as misconduct. A public official who engages in the crime of bribery will face up to 12 years in prison.

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