The Ministry of Justice has announced the "Judicial Statistics" for 2020. These statistics are produced from administrative records containing data from the prosecutors' offices, courts, and enforcement offices and collated to provide insights as to the trends in access to justice and the functioning of the judicial system. This article will give an overview of the key statistics and address important trends affecting the Turkish judiciary.1
i. Criminal Investigations
The majority of the criminal investigations conducted in 2020 resulted in non-prosecution decisions. Only 31.6 percent of criminal investigations led to a criminal trial while the charges were dropped in 56.1 percent of investigations. These statistics call for greater scrutiny by public prosecutors in initiating criminal investigations as most of the investigations appear to have been initiated without sufficient grounds, which may ultimately harm legal certainty.
With over 13 million individuals facing charges against them in 2020, there was no significant decrease in the number of suspects from the previous two years. Considering that Turkey's entire population is 82 million, almost one in every six people appear to have been charged with a crime.2 There seem to be two main reasons for this high number. First, there are over 8 million ongoing investigations with unidentified perpetrators, which exacerbate the issue. Second, due to the increasing workload of public prosecutors, there is a large backlog of investigations that keep passing on to following years.
ii. Applications Before the Court of Cassation
The number of cases brought to the Court of Cassation has decreased considerably in 2020. While the number of files at the Criminal Chambers and their General Assembly was around 700,000 - 800,000 in each year between 2013-2018, this number decreased to 449,700 in 2020.
The same trend was observed in the number of files before the Civil Chambers and their General Assembly. While the number of cases brought to the Civil Chambers was 725,664 in 2014, this number has decreased almost every year, falling to 264,001 in 2020.
This considerable decrease in Court of Cassation cases is the result of a major amendment that overhauled Turkey's appellate review system in 2016. Following the amendment, Turkey introduced regional courts of appeal that now serve as the second-tier courts between instance courts and the Court of Cassation. Hence, fewer cases reaching the Court of Cassation.
Another reason for this decrease is that the 2016 amendment also introduced strict legislative requirements for a case to be appealed before the Court of Cassation. Consequently, it is of the utmost importance for regional courts of appeal to effectively conduct final appeal reviews and enable meaningful access to justice.
iii. Applications Before the Constitutional Court
Around 40,000 applications were lodged before the Constitutional Court in 2020, while over 42,000 pending applications were transferred from the previous year. The number of pending applications transferred to the next year has been on a steep upward trend since 2013. These statistics call for an increase in the Constitutional Court's institutional capacity for timely and comprehensive handling of applications.
Claims of violations to the right to a fair trial formed the largest proportion of applications for the eighth year running, totaling 67 percent of all applications made in 2020; the highest rate since 2013.
As to Constitutional Court decisions, violation decisions on the prohibition of torture are of particular concern. While there were fewer than 25 cases in any given year between 2013-2018, this number jumped to more than one hundred in 2019 and to two hundred in 2020. Although these numbers are still low, the authorities must address the increasing trend as per the zero tolerance to torture policy.
Judicial statistics offer a rough overview of the functioning of the judicial system every year. One must be mindful that every number in these statistics relate to a person's request for justice or the public's call for maintaining rule of law. Such statistics rarely paint the full picture in a judicial system. Hence, readers should take the 2020 judicial statistics with a pinch of salt and use them as a preliminary resource in identifying the Turkish judicial system's achievements and shortcomings.
1 The publicly available statistics include the years between 2013 and 2020.
2 Excluding foreigners.
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