Law Council of Australia (LCA) president Stuart Clark AM said judicial independence in Turkey is under severe threat as the judges, along with unknown numbers of lawyers and other legal professionals, have been detained by the Turkish government in a retaliatory response to the failed coup.
“Turkey has long been considered a relative beacon of democracy and the rule of law in a troubled region. In democracies, however, the independence of judges from political influence must be considered sacrosanct,” Mr Clark said.
“Removing or suspending a judge should only be done in alignment with constitutional safeguards, and this has not been the case in recent days.”
There is no suggestion that any Turkish judges were involved in plotting the attempted coup, and their removal was completed without proper procedures, according to the LCA.
“Of course, Turkey is experiencing extraordinary circumstances. However, it would be deeply regrettable if a bad situation was made much worse through the jettisoning of fundamental rule of law principles,” Mr Clark said.
“The international community must not allow the Turkish government to use the failed coup as a blank cheque to remove judicial independence. To do so would be to acquiesce to the failure of democracy and the rule of law in one of the world’s largest nations.”
Mr Clark is hoping that the international community makes it clear to Turkey in the coming weeks that they must act in accordance with the Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary.
“This also means those charged with crimes arising out of this most recent incident should be tried by judges and represented by lawyers who are free from government pressure and interference.
“Additionally, an emphasis should be placed on Turkey’s commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to protect and promote human rights, including legal professionals who have been the target of previous attacks by the government.”
Mr Clark said the LCA is also concerned about suggestions that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might not only reintroduce the death penalty in Turkey, but apply it retrospectively to those allegedly involved in the coup.
“The Law Council is completely opposed to the use of the death penalty, which is an outright violation of the most fundamental of human rights, the right to life.
We are further disturbed by the idea that such a penalty could be applied retrospectively. Any such move would be inconsistent with the rule of law,” Mr Clark said.
“The legal sector is also troubled by news of a large-scale purge of the country’s institutions and the imposition of a three-month state of emergency. Further, the related decision to ban Turkish academics from travelling, affecting many legal academics, is a direct attack on academic freedom.”