“Legal reforms” with a sole focus on investments will not suffice

President Erdogan’s serious challenges with Turkey’s troubled economy is no secret.  To rebuild the long-lost credibility in Turkey’s institutional capacities, the President had reshuffled Turkey’s top economy management team back in early November.  Along with changing Turkey’s central bank governor and Treasury and Finance Minister aiming for orthodoxy as the Turkish Lira was engaged in an everlasting sliding, the President also had promised economic and legal reforms.

The details of the mentioned reforms have been secreted until now, yet the level of ailment in Turkey’s justice system has since then been keeping the expectations high.

Under Turkey’s rather awkward presidential system Erdogan’s AKP is locked in a forced coalition with Turkey’s hardline nationalist political party MHP to secure the +50% share of votes required.  Hence, he seems to have little room for reforms that can truly improve the battered human rights and freedom of speech & expression in the country.  In fact, delivering true reforms to such improved freedoms could end up hurting the President in the end as the policy implementations since the AKP-MHP alliance have been in favor of suppressing the opponents through meddling in with the legal system and employing constant separatist rhetoric.

Nonetheless, some details about the intended legal reforms started to emerge.

The draft of the judicial reform package is expected to be completed and presented  to the Parliament at the end of this month.  It suggests disciplinary offense for judges who do not comply with the Constitutional Court decisions.

According to the AKP circles, following its completion by the end of January, the draft will be submitted to Erdogan and discussed at the AKP FMC. To ease investors’ concerns about the rule of law in Turkey, the “legal reform law” will emphasize:

    • Failure to comply with the Constitutional Court decisions will be defined as a disciplinary offense for judges.
    • Criminal proceedings and detention periods will be reassessed.
    • In the Criminal Procedure Law, it is foreseen that a definite time will be determined for prosecutors to prepare indictments in criminal proceedings and that the periods of detention will be arranged accordingly.
    • Within the scope of crimes such as terrorism or money laundering, it is also considered to appoint trustees not to the entire management of the related company, but only to the shares of the relevant persons.
    • Commercial disputes under 300 thousand TL will be sent to arbitration instead of first instance court, and it is not planned to abolish the temporary tax practice within the scope of “Simplified (Serial) Arbitration” rules.
    • A detail in the reform package was related to the appointment of judges. The “geographic guarantee” principle regarding judges will be applied. In other words, judges cannot be appointed elsewhere without their request.
    • Another detail in the reform package is for public receivables. In cases of foreclosure, lien will be applied only as much as debt.
    • An evaluation study on the inflation accounts of TURKSTAT (Turkish statistics office) will be initiated to improve the ailing trust in the institution. Currently TURKSTAT is under the management of Ministry of Finance and Treasury. Any modification that falls short of  making the institution autonomous will not satisfy investors as there is increasing talk of meddling in with the figures, especially during the former Minister Albayrak’s term who is also the son-in-law of the President.

While the mentioned steps are surely a way forward, if limited with only these the package will fail to meet the expectations.  Erdogan appears eager to curb “legal reforms” to the point of securing property rights for those who are willing to invest in Turkey.  Yet, time and again, the breech of individual freedoms and the suppression of opposition of any form in the country means more needs to change in Turkey beyond “property rights”.

Turkey’s Constitutional Court with the latest appointments of the judges is speculated to support President Erdogan, meaning judges who challenge the Constitution Court decisions being subject to disciplinary measures will not be good enough.   Rather a broader freedom of justice is required so that the influence of the government on Turkish courts is eliminated.  The latest example was the refusal of the government to abide with the ECHHR decision on Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtas, the two flagship names for the abuse of individual rights in Turkey.