Rift deepens between Turkish gov't, top court with Erdoğan's heavy criticism

A deepening conflict between the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and the Constitutional Court took on a new dimension on Saturday, when the prime minister directed harsh criticism at the court’s judges over some of their recent rulings while the court’s top judge responded to the prime minister, saying they are doing their job.

The conflict suggests the top court is the next target of the AK Party government, points out Today’s Zaman in an analysis:

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while delivering a speech in İstanbul on Saturday, slammed the Constitutional Court for its decision to overturn a ban on Twitter as well as for its ruling to partially annul a law to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).

“Everyone should know the limits of their authority. If they [the Constitutional Court judges] want to conduct politics, they should first take off their robes,” Erdoğan stated.

On April 2 the Constitutional Court ordered that access to Twitter be restored, calling the two-week ban on the social media platform a violation of the right to free expression. Twitter was blocked after the prime minister expressed his dislike of the microblogging site after several users posted audio recordings related to an investigation into government corruption that became public with police raids and detentions carried out on Dec. 17, 2013.

Erdoğan harshly criticized the court after the ruling, saying he did not respect the decision.

On April 11 the Constitutional Court partially annulled parts of the HSYK law that gives the justice minister sweeping powers over the board. The court’s decision was published in the Official Gazette on April 12.

On Saturday, the prime minister said: “The Constitutional Court defends the rights of an international company instead of defending the rights of its own nation. It is a disrespect to the nation to make a ruling [on Twitter] while hundreds of files [complaints] are waiting at the court. The court also made a ruling about the HSYK.” The prime minister also asked the Constitutional Court to “know its boundaries.”

In response, Constitutional Court President Haşim Kılıç said the judges of the court are “doing their jobs.” “We are fulfilling our duties within the authority vested in us by the Constitution,” Kılıç told a Turkish daily on Saturday. According to Kılıç, people will understand the court’s rulings once the court releases its reasoned decisions.


The top judge also responded to claims that the Constitutional Court had reviewed a complaint about the HSYK law even though the complaint was not on the court’s agenda. Kılıç said the claim did not reflect the truth. “The topics to be discussed by the court are picked one week beforehand, and the court’s members are informed about the court’s agenda. The members work on those topics and then attend the court’s sessions. The HSYK law was among the topics the court was supposed to discuss. The Constitutional Court members knew that the law would be discussed by the court,” he stated.

Kılıç was also asked if he is planning to run as a candidate for president in the approaching elections. In response, the judge said he is not considering running. “I am working very hard. All talks and analyses on this [presidency] issue are evaluations without my knowledge,” he stated.

With its ruling to partially annul the HSYK law, the Constitutional Court has secured the support of prominent legal experts.

Constitutional law expert Professor Zafer Üskül, a former deputy of the AK Party, said the top court should issue its reasoned decision on the HSYK law soon. According to the professor, the court has made the right decision by annulling parts of the law that gives the justice minister broad powers over the HSYK but pointed out that the minister has already reshaped the board by removing many members and appointing others. Üskül said the Constitutional Court’s annulment of the HSYK law will not impact the moves already taken by the justice minister on the board.

Shortly after the HSYK law went into effect in late February, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ removed many members from the HSYK and appointed new members in their place.

Üskül said the HSYK members who have been removed can appeal to administrative courts to be reappointed to their former posts at the board. However, he added, even if the courts decide to reinstate these members to their former positions, those posts are already occupied by new members who must resign before the former members can return to their posts.

Former Justice Minister Professor Hikmet Sami Türk also applauded the Constitutional Court for its decision on the HSYK law. Türk said the law was aimed at subordinating the board to the justice minister, a move that violated the rule of law. “Subordinating the HSYK to the justice minister and rendering the board’s 21 members ineffective would go against the independence of the judiciary,” he stated.

The former minister also noted that the Constitutional Court had also annulled an article of the HSYK law which said all inspectors and administrative staff working for the HSYK would be removed from their jobs. According to Türk, the article required a mass removal of staff at the HSYK. “This is an article that could only be seen during coup periods,” he noted.