Turkey: Dismissal of judges and prosecutors tainted by unfairness, says ICJ

The ICJ is concerned that the dismissal of 17 judges and prosecutors by Turkey’s Council of Judges and Prosecutors on 10 January, for alleged membership of or connections with the “Fetullahist Terrorist Organisation” (FETÖ) did not respect their right to a fair trial.

The decision by the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (CJP) is particularly problematic because it lacks any reasoning on the individual situation of each judge and prosecutor.

The ICJ points out that international law provides that judges may be dismissed only through a fair hearing before an independent authority. The lack of individual reasoning in dismissal decisions strikes at the heart of the right to a fair hearing.

Furthermore, the ICJ recalls its conclusions in the 2018 report Justice Suspended that, within the current constitutional framework, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (CJP) is not provided with the guarantees necessary to ensure its institutional independence.

Despite the state of emergency having been lifted since last July 2018, extraordinary powers given to the Council of Judges and Prosecutors to dismiss judges and prosecutors during the State of Emergency were extended for 3 years by Law no. 7145. It is unacceptable in a State governed by the rule of law that judges and prosecutors – whatever charges may be against them – be dismissed without respect for the right to a fair procedure, in disregard of international standards.

Considering that the Council of State has not delivered a single decision about dismissed judges and prosecutors during the state of emergency, in more than two years now, it seems likely that it would take at least two years before the recent decision of the CJP is reviewed by an independent judicial authority. Until then, absent further action by the CJP, the reasons for the dismissals will not be known by the purged judges and prosecutors, or by the general public.

The ICJ calls on the CJP to revoke its order and re-examine the cases under the ordinary dismissal procedures and on the Turkish Government and Parliament to modify the constitutional rules on the CJP to ensure its full independence.

Finally, the ICJ expresses concern at the conviction of the former head of the judges’ organisation YARSAV, Mr Murat Arslan, for alleged membership of FETÖ. There are credible reports of violations of the right to a fair trial in the proceedings, including four changes of judges during the proceedings, often without reasons given and without re-examination of witnesses, significant limitations to the defence access to evidence before trial and use of witnesses with undisclosed identity. The ICJ considers that these allegations of violations of the right to a fair trial should be thoroughly re-examined in appeal before an independent court and in full respect of Mr Arslan’s fair trial rights.


On 10 January, the Council of Judges and Prosecutors made use for the first time of special powers to dismiss judges and prosecutors without complying with the ordinary procedure, invoking extraordinary powers enacted by Law No 7145 of 31.07.2018. This legislation inserted into ordinary law several powers that had previously existed under the state of emergency legislation.

One of the amendments made by Law No 7145 of 31.07.2018 was to the Decree Law No 375 dated 1989. A Temporary Article (Article 35) was added to the Decree. On the basis of this article, the General Assembly of the Constitutional Court, the Presidency Councils of Court of Appeal, the Council of State, the General Assembly of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, a Commission set up by the Ministry of National Security, and the Presidency of the Court of Audit, were each authorised to take dismissal decisions for public officials/judges and prosecutors under their mandate for three years from the date of the endorsement of the law No 7145.

Based on this amendment, on 10 January 2019 the Council of Judges and Prosecutors took its first decision (Decision No. 2019/1) by dismissing 17 judges and prosecutors (6 Public prosecutors, 3 Members of Administrative Court, 7 judges of of Tax Court) based on the allegation of membership to FETÖ.

International law and standards provide that disciplinary proceedings should be conducted by an independent authority or a court with all the guarantees of a fair trial and provide the judge with the right to challenge the decision and sanction. Disciplinary sanctions should be proportionate.

The UN Basic Principles on the independence of the judiciary set out international standards for discipline, suspension and removal of judges, including in order to ensure impartiality and independence of courts and tribunals as required by international law (including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights). The Basic Principles state that a:

“charge or complaint made against a judge in his/her judicial and professional capacity shall be processed expeditiously and fairly under an appropriate procedure. The judge shall have the right to a fair hearing. The examination of the matter at its initial stage shall be kept confidential, unless otherwise requested by the judge. …

The Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE) adds that “a Head of State, Minister of Justice or any other representative of political authorities cannot take part in the disciplinary body.”


Massimo Frigo, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser for the Europe and Central Asia Programme, t: +41 22 979 3805, e: massimo.frigo(a)icj.org

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