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Turkey Table of Contents



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.

Provincial and Local Government

The 1982 constitution retains Turkey's centralized administrative system. Each province is administered by a governor (vagi ) appointed by the Council of Ministers with the approval of the president. The governors function as the principal agents of the central government and report to the Ministry of Interior. The constitution grants governors extraordinary powers during a state of emergency, powers similar to those of military authorities in areas under martial law. The constitution also stipulates that the central administration oversee elected local councils in order to ensure the effective provision of local services and to safeguard the public interest. The minister of interior is empowered to remove from office local administrators who are being investigated or prosecuted for offenses related to their duties.

In early 1995, Turkey was divided into seventy-six provinces (vilayetlar ). Each province was further subdivided into an average of about eight districts, or kazalar , each roughly equivalent in size to a county in a United States state. Each district was segmented into an average of 493 subdistricts, or bucaklar . Each provincial capital, each district seat, and each town of more than 2,000 people is organized as a municipality headed by an elected mayor. Government at the provincial level is responsible for implementing national programs for health and social assistance, public works, culture and education, agriculture and animal husbandry, and economic and commercial matters.

As chief executive of the province and principal agent of the central government, each governor supervises other government officials assigned to carry out ministerial functions in his or her province. Civil servants head offices of the national government that deal with education, finance, health, and agriculture at the provincial level. In each province, these directors form the provincial administrative council (vilayet genel meclisi ), which, with the governor as chair, makes key administrative decisions and, when necessary, initiates disciplinary actions against errant provincial employees.

The governor also heads the provincial assembly and several service departments concerned mainly with local trade and industrial matters. The provincial assembly, which advises and works closely with the provincial administrative council, is elected every five years and, with the governor chairing, meets annually to approve the provincial budget and to select one person from each district to serve on the province's administrative commission. With the governor presiding, the administrative commission meets weekly for mutual consultation. Provincial budgets derive their income from rents, payments for services, fines, state aid, and a 1 percent share of national tax revenues. In most provinces, provincial funds are spent primarily on agricultural and reforestation programs, irrigation, and schools.

Each district in a province has its own administration based in the district seat. The district administration consists of a district chief (kaymakam ), central government representatives, and a district administrative board. The more than 500 district chiefs are appointed by the president upon nomination by the minister of interior. Each district chief is responsible to the governor, serving essentially as his or her agent in supervising and inspecting the activities of government officials in the district. The district in which a provincial capital is located may not have a district chief but instead be headed directly by the governor. Each subdistrict director (bucak mudur ) is appointed by the minister of interior on the nomination of the governors. The subdistrict directors, who number about 40,000, are responsible for law enforcement in the villages. They are assisted by officials in charge of rural security; land titles; vital statistics; schools; and postal, telephone, and telegraph services.

Municipal governments exist in each provincial and district capital, as well as in all communities with at least 2,000 inhabitants. Municipal governments are responsible for implementing national programs for health and social assistance, public works, education, and transportation. Each municipality (belediye ) is headed by a mayor (belediye reisi ), who is elected by the citizens to a five-year term and is assisted by deputy directors of departments and offices. Municipal councils, also elected for five years, vary in size according to each town's population. Municipal councils meet three times a year to decide on such issues as the budget, housing plans, reconstruction programs, tax rates, and fees for municipal services. A variety of municipal standing committees, appointed by the mayor and municipal department directors or selected by municipal council members from among themselves, deal with financial issues and decide on the appointment and promotion of municipal personnel.

The smallest unit of local government in Turkey is the village (köy derneg ), a locality with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants. The principal authority in a village, the headman (muhtar ), is chosen by an assembly of all the village's adults. This informal assembly also makes decisions pertaining to village affairs and elects a council of elders (ihtiyar meclisi ) that includes the village schoolteacher and the imam (see Glossary). The headman supervises the planning and operation of communal projects and services and administers directives from higher authorities. The headman receives government officials, maintains order, collects taxes, and presides at civil ceremonies. The village council supervises village finances, purchases or expropriates land for schools and other communal buildings, and decides on the contributions in labor and money to be made by villagers for road maintenance and other community improvements. The village council also arbitrates disputes between villagers and imposes fines on those who fail to perform the services allotted to them.

Data as of January 1995

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Turkey Table of Contents