Turkey’s top judicial body, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), has received more than 17,000 complaints against 14,000 judges and prosecutors over the past year, a situation that one HSYK member has said may prevent members of the judiciary from issuing rulings impartially and independently.
The independence of the judiciary in Turkey has come under suspicion following the eruption of a corruption scandal on Dec. 17, 2013 in which senior government members were implicated. Following the scandal, the government reassigned the judges and prosecutors who took part in the probe, before suspending them. They were eventually expelled from the legal profession, and the corruption allegations were covered up when the new prosecutors assigned to the investigation dropped the charges.
The number of complaints received by the HSYK against judges and prosecutors has increased rapidly since the Dec. 17 corruption probe. Complaints have been made by individuals and even some state institutions against prosecutors and judges conducting investigations against them or hearing their cases. The prosecutors and judges have been generally accused of failing to conduct a fair investigation or trial. In some cases, they have been accused both of being a member of the so-called “parallel state” and being pro-government.
The “parallel state” or “parallel structure” is a phrase coined by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following the 2013 graft probe to refer to the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement. Erdoğan accuses the movement of establishing a state within the state and masterminding the graft probe in order to overthrow his government. The movement strongly denies Erdoğan’s accusations.
Following the graft probe, Erdoğan and the government have launched a witch hunt in nearly all state institutions and in particular in the judiciary and police force against individuals who have ties with the Gülen movement. Some individuals who have been convicted in theft or fraud cases also accuse judges and prosecutors of being a member of the “parallel state,” apparently to try to overturn their convictions.
In some cases, more than one complaint against a judge or prosecutor is filed. A judge might be accused of being member of the “parallel state” in one complaint, while in another he is accused of being “pro-government.”
Voicing his discomfort over the increasing number of complaints filed against prosecutors and judges, Mahmut Şen, a member of the second chamber of the HSYK, wrote on his Twitter account on Saturday that as long as the number of complaints and investigations against judges and prosecutors increases, members of the judiciary will feel under pressure.
Şen said: “In order for the correction of mistakes in judicial decisions, objections or appeals are legally possible. However, it has become a habit to file complaints at the HSYK against judges. A judicial decision against an individual leads to a complaint immediately. Even public institutions file complaints against judges when they don’t like the judge’s ruling.”
Şen warned that prospects of reassignment or disciplinary punishment due to a decision made by a judge could prevent members of the judiciary from making the most fair and accurate judicial decisions.