Since legal reforms instituted in 1926, Turkey's judicial system has been based on the Swiss Civil Code, the Italian Penal Code, and the Neuchâtel (Swiss) Code of Civil Procedure. The 1982 constitution guarantees judicial independence and prohibits any government agency or individual from interfering with the operations of the courts and judges. Members of the National Assembly also are not allowed to discuss or make statements concerning pending court cases. Although trials normally are held in open court, the constitution provides that they can be closed "for reasons of public morality or public security."
Headed by the minister of justice, the High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors is the principal body charged with responsibility for ensuring judicial integrity. This council acts on matters pertaining to the careers of judges, including appointments, promotions, transfers, and supervision. The high council is empowered to remove judges and abolish courts and the offices of judges and public prosecutors. However, judges themselves are protected against arbitrary removal from office by a constitutional provision stipulating that they cannot be dismissed without due cause or retired involuntarily before age sixty-five.
In early 1995, Turkey's legal system consisted of three types of courts: judicial, military, and administrative. Each system includes courts of first instance and appellate courts. In addition, a Court of Jurisdictional Disputes rules on cases that cannot be classified readily as falling within the purview of one court system.
The judicial courts form the largest part of the system; they handle most civil and criminal cases involving ordinary citizens. The two supreme courts within the judicial system are the Constitutional Court and the Court of Appeals.
The Constitutional Court reviews the constitutionality of laws and decrees at the request of the president or of one-fifth of the members of the National Assembly. Its decisions on the constitutionality of legislation and government decrees are final. The eleven members of the Constitutional Court are appointed by the president from among candidates nominated by lower courts and the High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors. Challenges to the constitutionality of a law must be made within sixty days of its promulgation. Decisions of the Constitutional Court require the votes of an absolute majority of all its members, with the exception of decisions to annul a constitutional amendment, which require a two-thirds majority.
The Court of Appeals (also known as the Court of Cassation) is the court of last instance for review of decisions and verdicts of lower-level judicial courts, both civil and criminal. Its members are elected by secret ballot by senior judges and public prosecutors. Below the Court of Appeals are the ordinary civil and criminal courts. At the lowest level of the judicial system are justices of the peace, who have jurisdiction over minor civil complaints and offenses. Single-judge criminal courts have jurisdiction over misdemeanors and petty crimes, with penalties ranging from small fines to brief prison sentences. Every organized municipality (a community having a minimum population of 2,000) has at least one single-judge court, with the actual number of courts varying according to the total population. Three-judge courts of first instance have jurisdiction over major civil suits and serious crimes. Either of the parties in civil cases and defendants convicted in criminal cases can request that the Court of Appeals review the lower-court decision. The Turkish courts have no jury system; judges render decisions after establishing the facts in each case based on evidence presented by lawyers and prosecutors.
The administrative court system consists of the Council of State, an appellate court, and various administrative courts of first instance. The Council of State reviews decisions of the lower administrative courts, considers original administrative disputes, and, if requested, gives its opinion on draft legislation submitted by the prime minister and the Council of Ministers. The president appoints 25 percent of the Council of State's judges. The other 75 percent are appointed by the High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors.
The military court system exercises jurisdiction over all military personnel. In areas under martial law, the military also has jurisdiction over all civilians accused of terrorism or "crimes against the state." The military court system consists of military and security courts of first instance, a Supreme Military Administrative Court, an appellate State Security Court, and the Military Court of Appeals, which reviews decisions and verdicts of the military courts. The decisions of the Military Court of Appeals are final.
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