Turkey’s parliament passed a law on July 11 on changing the structure of bar associations, a move that lawyers argue will further undermine judicial independence in a country where they say the judiciary is already in disarray.
Thousands of lawyers have protested in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities against the plan, saying it aims to silence some of the few institutions still speaking out against the government’s record on rule of law and human rights.
The law aims to decentralize the bar associations by permitting the establishment of alternative associations in Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir, which represent nearly half of all lawyers in the country.
It also seeks to change the election system of the executive board of the Turkey Bar Associations in a way to break the power of three biggest associations so that provincial organizations would have more of a say in the lawyers’ agenda.
The law allows bar associations that have more than 5,000 members to split into other bar associations as long as they have at least 2,000 lawyers.
Each bar association in the provinces will be represented by three delegates and a president in the General Assembly of Union of Turkish Bar Associations.
Opponents say it will strengthen small provincial bars at the expense of the large associations in the main cities. The larger associations currently predominate and are frequently critical of the government.
These associations say the judicial system has descended into chaos in recent years with lawyers jailed, defences muzzled and confidence in judges and prosecutors destroyed.
The law was passed with 251 votes in favour in the 600-seat parliament, with only 417 deputies voting. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has 291 seats in the assembly, while its ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have 49 seats.
The legislation “appears calculated to divide the legal profession along political lines and diminish the biggest bar associations’ role as human rights watchdogs,” Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists said.
Istanbul Bar head Mehmet Durakoğlu said that the law will be taken to the Constitutional Court for annulment.