Guest blog: ADR Developments in Turkey in the Aftermath

11 August 2016

Andrew Goodman

Andrew Goodman

I arrived in Istanbul on the eleventh day after the attempted coup in July. Make no mistake, this was a serious attempt to overthrow the government, although botched. 290 people were killed; approximately 2,000 were wounded. CNN Turk showed footage of tanks firing on unarmed civilians on the Bosphorus Bridge and warplanes attacking the parliament building in Ankara, neither of which I had seen on the BBC's coverage.

Yet the atmosphere on my entry into the country was normal to the point of surrealism. I had diverted to the tourist airport at Sabiha Gokcen to avoid problems at Attaturk, and had an hour's queue at passport control. What struck me was an almost complete absence of security personnel, either at the airport or in the city. No military. No additional police. No signs of the tension that had been apparent during my last two visits, one in April and one last year.

I was working for a week at the offices of one of Turkey's leading law firms, Herguner Bilgen Ozeke, in the Levent district of the country's commercial centre. I was training 40 lawyers in a British Embassy sponsored mediation advocacy course over three days, and helping to formulate a train the trainer programme for Turkish civil mediators.

The streets were reasonably crowded - although not with tourists. People were dining out and shopping as if nothing had happened. For eleven days after the coup attempt, all public transport in Istanbul was free, and the ruling party, the AKP, directed people by social media where to attend that evening's particular rally. It became a requirement not to stay at home - in sharp contrast to the Gezi Park protests of 2013 when the authorities were trying to keep people indoors.

The lawyers who attended the ADR course came from across Istanbul and as far away as Izmir. Many were already registered mediators, although mediation in Turkey is in its infancy. The Turkish Mediation Law (no.6325 of 2012) established not only requirements for state examination and registration of civil mediators, it set a syllabus to be taught by universities licensed to do so. Some 12,000 have since passed the exam, despite the fact that neither the requirements nor the syllabus have any practical application. Neither could have been produced by experienced mediators.  Indeed the Court of Cassation has already recognised the need for serious reform, and invited among others, three members of the Bar's ADR Panel - Michel Kallipetis QC, Paul Randolph and myself - to a conference of internationally known mediators in April this year.

ADR Turkey

Training lawyers in Turkey on mediation advocacy

There is now a serious urgency thrown up by the fallout from the political struggle. 3,049 judges and prosecutors have been removed from office, and some have been detained. Upwards of 30,000 people in all walks of life - lawyers, the military, police, civil servants, teachers and lecturers in particular - have been either detained or sacked according to lists with a speed that suggests strongly they were drawn up in advance of 15 July. The litigators I was with were simply resigned to the fact that an enquiry about a court case, or a particular judge or court official, would simply go unanswered.

Despite the fact that the Justice Ministry announced it was appointing a total of 5,110 new judges and prosecutors during August in order to avoid disruptions in the judicial process, most lawyers have reservations about the quality, experience and independence of the new appointees. Most are likely to come from the east and south of the country and have little experience, either at all, or certainly of secular metropolitan life in a large cosmopolitan commercial city. The more sophisticated lawyers see this as a period of justice deficit in which ADR has a unique opportunity to flourish, and they are advising their clients accordingly. International companies need to accept that mediation or some other consensual dispute resolution method may be the only untainted process for the effective management of disputes in Turkey for some years.

During my stay, some 130 media organisations were shut down under the emergency powers granted by parliament to the government. A little over 600 books and DVDs were banned. Lawyers and journalists continue to be arrested.

On the day I left, the chief prosecutor of Ankara demanded a freeze on the assets of 3,049 judges and prosecutors detained and removed from office - banks accounts, vehicles, papers, partnership interests and safe deposit boxes. Some 30 of Turkey's leading businessmen were being detained and their companies nationalised.

I anticipate returning for my next bout of training in three weeks. Wish me luck. 

Andrew Goodman is a member of the Bar Council's ADR Panel and the British Turkish Lawyers Association. He is a Bencher of Inner Temple and practises out of 1 Chancery Lane.