Turkey says democracy will be strengthened in new judicial year as various bar associations boycott ceremony

Turkish Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül said on Sunday, in a public message over the beginning of the judicial year, Turkey aims to strengthen democracy and expand freedoms, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Gül on May 22 announced a new reform package, the Judicial Reform Strategy Document, what he said would ensure the basic rights and freedoms, as the country had been leaving behind the period after a failed coup attempt in 2016 and the two-year emergency rule declared afterwards.

"With the Strategy Document, which has human dignity, human rights and freedoms at its core, we have clearly demonstrated our will to strengthen our democracy, as well as develop and expand our freedoms," he said a day before a ceremony marking the beginning of the judicial year.

Following the justice minister's remarks, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also released a statement ahead of the ceremony.

"In the period which has started with the July 15 coup attempt, our justice institution has passed a big test and become an important power in the fight against traitors," Anadolu Agency quoted Erdoğan as saying.

The fight against the Gülenist movement, which Ankara accuses of masterminding the coup attempt, shows how “careful and brave” Turkey must be against the groups trying to capture the judiciary, the Turkish president said.

But the choice of venue for the ceremony sparked a debate over the independence of Turkey's judiciary. 

20 members of Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals and 41 provincial bar associations had declined the invitation to attend the event which will be held in at the Turkish Presidency’s Congress and Culture Centre in Ankara, saying that having the ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Ankara will hinder judicial independence.

Turkey ranks 109th out of 126 countries in the 2018-2019 Rule of Law Index prepared by the influential non-profit civil society organisation World Justice Project. The main reasons for Turkey’s low position on the index are listed as the lack of constraints on government powers, a problem related to a severe lack of independent auditing and judicial checks, according to WJP.