Plea bargain in the works to speed up Turkey's judicial system

ZÜBEYDE YALÇIN
ISTANBUL
Published

The government is preparing to roll out new judicial reforms for undermanned courts that face the burden of an overload of cases. The reforms, which will bring major changes to the judiciary, include plea-bargaining, a staple of the U.S. justice system.

The Justice Ministry is working on a package of regulations and amendments to the Penal Code to relieve the burden of courts, and authorities examined U.S. and European Union model judicial systems. The reforms, which will be included in a set of bills to be brought to Parliament for ratification, aim to foster a quicker judicial process, as in other countries, for the Turkish legal system.

Reforms will also contribute to decreasing the high prison population by calling for sentence reductions for defendants that make plea deals with prosecutors. In some countries, sentences for those pleading guilty are halved, while Turkey plans a one-third reduction in sentences in such cases. The approval of prosecutors and judges will be required for sentence reductions. Plea bargains will be confined to offenses that carry lesser prison terms rather than serious crimes such as homicide, while offenses against children will be excluded from plea-bargaining.

No recent figures are available, but figures from last year show the judiciary had a heavy workload that totaled 1.4 million cases in 2013 plus more than 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 on the floor.

The move is the latest to bring the country up-to-date with modern legal practices, as the government struggles to push forward with a constitutional reform to replace archaic laws. In 2012, a landmark bill introduced dispute resolution or mediation in legal cases, slightly relieving the heavy workload of the judiciary.

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