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Erdoğan signals changes to structure of top courts

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday expressed dissatisfaction with recent rulings by the country’s highest courts and signaled that he is pushing for constitutional reforms to resolve what he sees as conflicts within the judiciary.

Erdoğan’s criticism follows his reaction to decisions by the Council of State and the Constitutional Court that clashed with the government’s positions.

In particular, he criticized the Council of State’s decision in 2022 to reinstate 450 judges and prosecutors who had previously been dismissed for alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement. The Gülen movement is accused by the government of orchestrating a failed coup attempt in 2016 and is classified as a terrorist organization. The movement denies involvement in the coup or any terrorist activity.

Last week, during a flight back from his landmark visit to Egypt, Erdoğan said he is unable to remain silent on such judicial decisions, including a recent Constitutional Court ruling that overturned a law allowing the government to restrict access to online content.

Speaking at an appointment ceremony for judges and prosecutors in the presidential palace, Erdoğan outlined his vision for judicial reform. He advocated resolving the conflict with the high judiciary through constitutional amendments and seeking consensus in parliament to meet the country’s need for a new constitution.

Turkey’s judiciary draws widespread criticism for its perceived lack of independence under the rule of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

Erdoğan is accused of exerting absolute control over the judiciary thanks to vast powers granted to him by a presidential system of governance.

The country has been experiencing a judicial crisis sparked by the imprisonment of an opposition lawmaker who was kept in prison despite two decisions from the Constitutional Court in his favor.

The Supreme Court of Appeals, which upheld an 18-year sentence for lawmaker Can Atalay in a politically motivated trial, refused to act in line with the Constitutional Court’s decisions and filed criminal complaints against the members of the top court due to their ruling, a first in the judicial history of Turkey.

Atalay was eventually stripped off his parliamentary status last month in defiance of successive rulings by the Constitutional Court.

Many say there is no longer a separation of powers in the country and that members of the judiciary are under the absolute control of the government and cannot make judgments based on law.

In a sign of the deteriorating rule of law in the country, Turkey was ranked 117th among 142 countries in the rule of law index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in October.

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