Turkey: constitutional amendments threaten long-term damage to independence of the judiciary

The ICJ today warned that proposed amendments to Turkey’s Constitution to be voted on in the referendum of 16 April could irremediably compromise the independence of the judiciary.

The amendments would introduce significant changes to the institutional framework governing the Turkish judiciary, with far reaching consequences for the separation of powers.

The ICJ is concerned that the proposed constitutional amendments, if approved, would enshrine in Turkish Constitution measures that would be severely damaging the rule of law in Turkey for the long term.

The separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary are fundamental components of the rule of law.

Under the proposals, the President of the Republic would be empowered to appoint six out of thirteen members of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, including four ordinary members as well as the Minister of Justice, (who would act as President of the Council) and the Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Justice.

The remaining seven members would be appointed by the National Assembly.

None of the members of the Council would be appointed by judges or public prosecutors.

The High Council of Judges and Prosecutors is the institution entrusted with the appointment, transfer, promotion, discipline and dismissal of judges and public prosecutors in Turkey.

It is the role of such a Council to act as a guardian of judicial independence and to protect the judiciary from interference by the executive and legislative powers.

The proposed Constitutional amendments are clearly contrary to international standards on the independence of the judiciary, which affirm that at least half of the members of a judicial council should be judges elected by their peers.

The amendments, if passed in the forthcoming referendum, would be enacted in a context where judicial independence has already been severely compromised.

Under the State of Emergency in place since the attempted coup of July 2016, approximately one fifth of the judiciary has been arbitrarily dismissed, and thousands of prosecutors and lawyers have been detained.

As the ICJ has previously highlighted, such measures have had a devastating effect on the independence of the judiciary at every level, compromising the courts’ ability to provide fair trials or an effective remedy for violations of human rights.

The ICJ understands that Turkey faced a serious threat to its democratic institutions in connection with the attempted coup of 15 July 2016.

Nonetheless, it stresses that measures meant to meet this threat must be undertaken within the framework of the rule of law and the country’s human rights obligations.

The ICJ reiterates its call on the Turkish authorities to lift the State of Emergency and the derogations from its international human rights law obligations that it has made as a matter of high priority.


Róisín Pillay, ICJ Europe Programme Director, t: +32 2 734 84 46 ; e: roisin.pillay(a)icj.org


An ICJ briefing paper of June 2016, the Turkey: the Judicial System in Peril , raised concern at measures eroding the independence of the judiciary, prosecution, and legal profession in Turkey, with serious consequences for protection of human rights.

The Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)12 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on judges: independence, efficiency and responsibilities, states:

  1. Not less than half the members of [councils for the judiciary] should be judges chosen by their peers from all levels of the judiciary and with respect for pluralism inside the judiciary.

Under international human rights law Turkey may derogate from certain human rights during a justified state of emergency only to the extent that derogating measures are strictly necessary to meet a current threat to the life of the nation.

Certain human rights, including freedom from torture, the right to life, and certain essential elements of the right to liberty, the right to a fair trial and the right to an effective remedy may never be restricted, even in an emergency situation.

Further guidance on relevant international law and standards can be found in the ICJ Legal Commentary to the Geneva Declaration on Upholding the Rule of Law and the Role of Judges and Lawyers in Times of Crisis.

NewsPress releases