Last Word: Sami Selçuk
TR: What should the relation between democracy and the rule of law be like? SAMİ SELÇUK: The terms “rule of law” and “supremacy of law” are products of the Anglo-Saxon system seen as the cradle of democracy. Of these terms, I prefer the latter, in which the individual and the state are equal before the law. Unlike the former, society -- not the state -- produces laws. Democracy can evolve and live in such a system. TR: What is the situation in Turkey regarding the relationship between democracy and the rule of law? SS: I regret to say that it’s very backward. We haven’t been able to establish the idea that leaders and society must follow the law. From time to time things are done in line with the warnings of the European Council and the EU, but we quickly destroy the progress. We debase every concept and institution we borrow from the West. Secularism, for example, and the Supreme Court of Appeals. Then we cry over spilt milk. These concepts have been developed in the minds of people over thousands of years. They have not come into existence overnight. You cannot speak of secularism in a country where religion is guided by the state and where people’s religion and religious ideology are determined by the state. Nowhere in the world is an institution made up of over 500 presidents and members with almost 1.5 million duties called a “Supreme Court of Appeals.” The world’s oldest supreme court is the French Court of Cassation, which has been a model for all supreme courts in Europe. It has 95 presidents and members, six chambers and almost 30,000 duties. In European countries, the Court of Cassation has the most greatest area of responsibility [in the judicial system], and this issue generates big disputes. In the 1950s, an attempt to establish a new chamber [in the Turkish courts] was discussed. The situation here is a total disaster and the continuous increase in the number of chambers and members illustrates that ignorance and senselessness have reaches a climax. It really makes me suffer. Really, I’m embarrassed by the state of the legal system. There’s no way an institution that is in the hands of ignorant could be corrupted more [thank it is now]. TR: You wrote a letter to a mother who lost her son in the Ermenek mining disaster, saying that, “What has failed is not your hope, but the law.” What kind of connection do you see between a mine accident and the failure of the law? SS: The law is a supervision mechanism. A legal system that does not succeed in doing this is useless. Humanity cannot abandon mines or stop traveling by planes, cars, ships and so on. These are a necessity part of civilization. In law, we call this “danger that is envisaged.” Yes, you are taking a chance, but danger is minimized by inspections. But in Turkey this inspection is not established or significant. Society is fatalist. TR: Judges and attorneys need to be independent and objective but isn’t it the duty of the legislative branch of government to protect this independence? What are judges and attorneys’ duties today? SS: You’re actually answering the question yourself. Judges and attorneys have to be honest, consistent, maintain an equal distance from all parties, and be truthful, informed, objective, impartial. In particular, judges need to be detached from the legislature and the executive, public opinion, their worldviews and their religious beliefs. Of course, these are not traits that can be acquired easily. But a judge has to succeed [in these efforts]. When making a decision, a judge is left alone with the law and the case file. The world apart from this is nonexistent to the judge. But politicians don’t leave the judiciary alone! Each day, someone takes their place and passes judgments. In 1999, when opening the legal year, I said that the executive had encircled the judiciary [in Turkey]. After warnings from the EU, people tried to fix the situation, but there was no end to it and there have been regressions. In Turkey, the judiciary is not independent at the moment, and I am sorry to say that it is trailing in the wake of the constitution of 1982.
A longer version of this interview is available online.