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Judicial crisis: Top court ruling again ignored after repeated defiance of appeal judges

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The decisions of Turkey’s highest court are being systematically disregarded by both the Supreme Court of Appeals and, increasingly, the local courts, deepening the judicial crisis in Turkey, the BirGün daily reported on Thursday.

The latest episode concerns a local court’s refusal to reconsider the conviction of a journalist for allegedly insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, despite a clear instruction from the Constitutional Court that a retrial was warranted.

The country has been experiencing a judicial crisis sparked by the imprisonment of an opposition lawmaker who was kept behind bars 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 stripped of his parliamentary status last month in defiance of successive rulings by the Constitutional Court.

The most recent instance in which a lower court ignored the decision of the supreme court occurred in the case of Turkish journalist Tülay Sükün, who was charged with insulting the president because of her posts on social media in 2017.

On October 13, 2020 she was handed down a suspended one-year sentence. Sükün’s lawyers appealed the verdict, arguing that it violated her freedom of expression.

However, their appeal was rejected, and an individual application was filed with the Constitutional Court.

On March 29, 2023 the Constitutional Court ruled that Sükün’s right to freedom of expression had been violated by the conviction and ordered a retrial.

The local court, however, rejected the order for a retrial, disregarding the Constitutional Court’s decision.

These refusals to comply with the decisions of the Constitutional Court are not isolated cases. In another instance, a labor court in İstanbul also elected to ignore the top court’s ruling.

Zühtü Arslan, the outgoing chief justice of the Constitutional Court, recently emphasized the binding nature of the court’s decisions in remarks at the swearing-in ceremony of Yılmaz Akçil, the newest member of the top court.

Mehmet Uçum, one of President Erdoğan’s key advisers, has challenged the interpretation that the Constitutional Court’s decisions on individual petitions are binding under Article 153 of the constitution, which emphasizes the binding nature of the top court’s decisions on all branches of government. Uçum has called for a restructuring of the Constitutional Court to bring it in line with “national judicial norms,” criticizing it for what he perceives as “Western and neoliberal biases.”

Erdoğan on Tuesday signaled that he is pushing for constitutional reforms to resolve what he sees as conflicts within the judiciary.

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