Plea bargain, settlement next in Turkey's judicial reform

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
Published 16.07.2015 22:22

The Turkish Ministry of Justice has prepared a draft bill that will bring major changes to the judiciary such as plea bargaining, a staple of the United States justice system, as well as the expansion of cases that may be settled without litigants facing charges.

A Turkish newspaper reported that the draft bill aims to relieve the judiciary of the heavy workload it faces as well as decreasing the high prison population while developing an alternative to resolving legal disputes. No recent figures are available, but figures from last year show the judiciary had a heavy workload totaling 1.4 million cases in 2013 plus over 500,000 unresolved cases from the previous year, according to statistics released by the Presidency of the Supreme Court of Appeals. Turkey also faces a prison capacity shortage with some prisons already working beyond their capacity, with inmates forced to stay in three-bed bunks and beds laid on the floor.

Cutting the judicial process short will definitely address these problems, experts say. The draft bill brings a negotiation between the guilty party and the prosecutor's office that may bring a reduced prison term if they plead guilty to certain charges. This is tentatively entitled "simplified judgment" according to the Turkish media, which will be mostly applicable for crimes carrying a five-year incarceration. It will be subject to approval by judges at the court. Plea-bargaining will be applicable for crimes ranging from injury, threat, abduction, violation of privacy, theft and lesser crimes, while suspects charged with homicide and other, more serious crimes, will not be eligible.

The planned bill also raises limits on posting bail to prevent lawsuits. Defendants charged with crimes carrying a sentence of two years in prison will now be eligible for posting bail to block the launch of the judicial process. It is currently applicable for crimes carrying a prison term of three months and less.

Looking to bring the country up-to-date with modern legal practices and address the above mentioned issues regarding the judiciary, Turkish authorities introduced dispute resolution or mediation in 2012. Dispute resolution quickly gained popularity especially among litigants involved in cases of misdemeanors, property disputes etc. In 2014, 259 cases were referred to mediators who succeeded in resolving 254 cases, according to figures provided by the Justice Ministry's Department of Mediation.

Disputes over employment, land ownership and other non-violent issues are mostly settled by mediators. Although mediators do not have judicial powers or cannot force the sides to settle, they often succeed in helping the two sides resolve a matter by offering them alternative options to avoid punishment or from becoming entangled in a lengthy legal battle.

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