I read an interview in the “Radikal” paper this week with the head of the Constitutional Court, Hasim Kilic.The subject was a change in the constitution which makes it possible for citizens to bring a case to the Constitutional Court. I was wondering if he said anything about the capacity of the Court. Had they hired extra legal experts to be able to handle the extra cases coming their way? Nothing on that in the article. The mind-blowing reason given was: the Court already knows, says Kilic himself, that they can accept only 1 to 2% of the cases anyway. ‘Please don’t think of us as a court of appeal’.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has its hands full with Turkey. In terms of pending applications – I copy paste from this website – as of Jan. 1, 2010, the report found that Turkey has the second highest number of complaints lodged against it with 11 percent of the total 119,300 applications. (…) In 2009, Turkey had 4,474 applications in the court while the number was 3,706 for 2008 and 2,828 for 2007.
The idea was that by making the Constitutional Court accessible for citizens, the case-flow from Turkey to the ECHR would go down, because you can only apply to the ECHR when you have gone through the full legal process in your own country. By adding a step to the domestic legal path, more people would – ideally – find justice inside Turkey’s justice system and would no longer feel a need to go to Strasbourg.
Kilic says in the interview that the Constitutional Court doesn’t expect all that many applications from citizens because the lower courts are expected to deliver better outcomes. I repeat: the lower courts are expected to deliver better outcomes. Got that? He expects lower courts to deliver better outcomes. Makes sense, when you see (above) that the applications from Turkey to the ECHR are only going up. And no, the Turkish state doesn’t win most cases, so it’s not that Turks just love fighting legal battles: between 1959 and 2009 2,295 judgments were entered for Turkey and only in 46 cases did the court find no violations of the European Convention on Human Rights (info from the same website).
But several judicial reforms have been made in Turkey, right? So maybe it’s realistic that Kilic expects improvements? No, it isn’t. Because making legal reforms is one thing, implementing them is another. Let me quote Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, who evaluates judicial change in Turkey. After elaborating on several changes at the beginning of this year, he closes his evaluation by saying:
Finally, the Commissioner would like to reiterate his view that some of the most serious human rights violations in Turkey emanate from the interpretation and application of the Turkish legislation by judges and prosecutors. Thus, the actual impact of even those amendments which the Commissioner considers positive, would very much depend on the practical implementation made by the Turkish judiciary of the amended legislation.
I’m not sure what Hammarberg considers ‘the most serious human rights violations in Turkey’, but I reckon they are for example the violation of the right to life (read about an example here) and the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time-frame. The ECHR in 2011 ruled six times that Turkey had violated the right to life, thirty times the right to a fair trial and 53 times the right to a trial within reasonable time. In the whole of 2011, 174 judgements were made on Turkey (check the stats here).
Now that the domestic legal path has been lengthened, it will for some time not be possible for Turks to apply to the ECHR. For two years, to be precise, says Mr Kilic. So for at least two years, Turkey’s goal will be reached: the number of applications from Turks to the ECHR will drop dramatically.
But summing everything up, I see no reason whatsoever why after these two years, the number of applications from Turks will stay low. After September 2014 the number will rocket up again, re-starting the good old competition with Russia for the highest number of cases. The result, in short, is that people will simply have to wait for justice two years longer. And then see that Turkey doesn’t really care about the judgement of the ECHR anyway – but let me not get into that again. It’s mind blowing when you think of it: imagine the handling of your court case takes too long, you want to go to the ECHR for it but now the Turkish system makes you wait two more years!
Maybe the ECHR can do some catching up on their own falling behind in these two quieter years ahead. So that when the flow from Turkey starts coming again, they can start providing justice to Turkish citizens again as soon as possible. Somebody has to do it.