Draft bill for lawyers to reduce opposition to Turkey’s government

A draft bill proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will oblige all bar associations in Turkey to hold elections for presidents and delegates for the Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) in October, Milliyet newspaper reported on Saturday, in a move that critics say is an attempt to stifle opposition to the government.

Following the election of delegates, the election for president of the TBB will be held in December, Milliyet said, based on the draft document obtained by the newspaper.

The majority of Turkey’s bar associations oppose the bill, saying it could decrease the voting weight of bar associations that are critical of the government. Last week, bar association presidents held a protest march that began in their respective provinces and ended in the capital Ankara to voice their concerns.

The draft, if passed into law in its current form, will allow for the formation of multiple bar associations in provinces with more than 5,000 registered lawyers. Mega city Istanbul could end up with more than six, say the protesting bar association presidents.

Bar associations will be shut down by the TBB if they have fewer than 2,000 members, which the protesters say will discourage supervision and enforcement of ethical standards. Assets of the shut-down bar associations will be transferred to the TBB.

Lawyers with at least 10 years of experience will vote to elect three delegates in each bar association, according to the proposal. Currently, each association sends two delegates to the TBB board, but the bill will shift the balance in favour of bar associations in smaller provinces, according to critics.

The draft also changes the number of lawyers needed to elect an additional delegate. Currently, one additional delegate is elected for every 300 lawyers after the first 100 registered in the bar association. If the bill passes, an additional delegate will be elected for every 5,000 lawyers. This will decrease representation for Turkey’s largest provinces, such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, whose bar association members tend to be more critical of government policies.

The number of bar associations required to call an extraordinary meeting for the TBB board will rise to 25, from the current 10. The draft also removes the ability to call elections in these extraordinary meetings.

New graduates will do their internship under a lawyer registered in the same bar association as them, according to the draft. Internships are currently done in court houses and law offices. Two lawyers registered in the same bar association will issue an introductory document for interns about their “moral status”, creating concerns over the ambiguity of the phrase and potential for manipulation.

In case of a lawyer’s death or disbarment, their bar association’s president will appoint another lawyer from the same association to take over their cases.

If there are multiple bar associations in a given province, the space allocated to each bar in the province’s court house will be determined by the president of the TBB, based on how many lawyers are registered in each.