For decades Turkey's leading judicial bodies such as the Constitutional Court, the Council of State, and the Supreme Court of Appeals have marked their anniversaries with ceremonies in which Turkey's leading political figures are made to sit in the front rows and be lectured about what the judges see as their mistakes.
The chief justices take these opportunities to lambast politicians in differing tones. Sometimes the criticism is rather mellow and even-handed, while at other times it is very harsh.
Most often this is an abuse of the opportunity and sooner or later someone was going to say "enough is enough." You do not "host" members of the government and other leading state officials at your special occasion and then use the opportunity to embarrass them. This is unethical, to say the least.
A few weeks ago, Constitutional Court Chief Justice Haşim Kılıç "hosted" the anniversary of the Supreme Court with a special ceremony attended by President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other leading state officials. Mr. Kılıç took the opportunity to harshly lambast the government's judicial policies, making everyone wonder what he was up to. Mr. Erdoğan and his ministers were made to sit and listen to the criticism and yet they all displayed the utmost restraint and did not walk out the room. Later, the prime minister and his ministers lashed out at Mr. Kılıç in various forums.
But on Saturday the picture was different. The occasion was the anniversary of the Council of State (the Supreme Court charged with administrative cases between the state and its citizens) and this time Mr. Erdoğan objected to the long political speech by the head of the Bar Association, Metin Feyzioğlu. The Council of State chief spoke for only 20 minutes and professor Feyzioğlu nearly a whole hour, which was an abuse of its kind. Feyzioğlu, who is a professor of criminal law and regarded as a leading opposition figure in Turkey, criticized the legal system and of course the policies of the government. So far, so good. But then toward the end of the speech he started talking about the earthquake victims in the eastern province of Van and that they expected better assistance. The prime minister was clearly fed up. He stood up, objected to the speech, which he called political, and walked out along with the president who attempted to restrain him.
Yes, it was a first for Turkish politics where a prime minister stormed out of such an occasion. But it was going to happen sooner or later; if not with this prime minister then with another one. If you want to lambast the government you can do it in your own forums and platforms, but trying to exploit a judicial occasion to criticize and embarrass the prime minister who has to sit through it is simply unacceptable. The head of the Bar Association can talk about legal issues but why bring up the earthquake victims of Van and put on a political show? Such occasions should either become events where the anniversaries of the courts are celebrated in an appropriate manner and some judicial issues are highlighted, or they should be scrapped altogether.