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Turkey: further steps needed for a truly independent and impartial judiciary

ANKARA (14 October 2011) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul*, called upon the Turkish authorities on Friday to take additional steps to guarantee in practice the effective independence and impartiality of the whole judiciary system.

“Turkey’s recent judicial reforms package brings improvements, in principle, to the judicial system, but that should only be seen as a first step to effectively safeguard the independence and impartiality of judges, prosecutors and lawyers,” Ms. Knaul said at the end of a five-day official visit to the country, during which she also focused on issues of access to justice, fair trial guarantees, the availability of legal defence and the legal profession.

“While the constitutional amendments related to the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, for instance, are overall positive,” the independent expert said, “the Minister of Justice still presides the High Council and authorizes the investigations conducted by this body”. In her view, “there is the need for a High Council which is totally independent from the Executive, both structurally, functionally and in practice”.

The Special Rapporteur said that “the far too close relationship between judges and prosecutors” raises concerns about the respect of the principles of impartiality and equality of arms. In this regard, she underlined that “it is essential that lawyers be treated as equal counterparts of judges and prosecutors within the legal professions.”

Ms. Knaul also noted with concern various restrictions permitted by the law in the enjoyment of procedural safeguards in organized crime and terrorism-related cases, notably with respect to the right to defence.

“In a democratic state, based on the rule of law, an independent and impartial judiciary is a fundamental guarantee for the society as a whole,” the UN expert underscored.

The Special Rapporteur visited Ankara, Istanbul and Diyarbakir where she held discussions with Government officials, judges, prosecutors, bar associations, lawyers, academics, international and local non-governmental organizations and UN agencies.

The final conclusions and recommendations regarding this visit to Turkey will be presented in the Special Rapporteur’s next report to the Human Rights Council in June of 2012.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur preliminary observations: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11495&LangID=E

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Judiciary/Pages/IDPIndex.aspx

OHCHR Country page – Turkey: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/TRIndex.aspx

Check the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/indjudiciary.htm

For additional information and media requests, please contact Ahmet Parla (Tel.: +90312 4541051 / email: ahmet.parla@unic.org) or Ugo Cedrangolo (Tel: +41 22 917 9286 / email: ucedrangolo@ohchr.org) or write to srindependence@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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