Records show that there are currently over 1.5 million files in the Supreme Court of Appeals that have not even been touched. There are currently 32 chambers in the court, of which 11 are criminal chambers each one of which concludes an average of 19,000 cases per year. These figures show that even if regional appellate courts began functioning today to lighten the high court's caseload and no new case files arrived, the appeals court would need at least five years to conclude cases that are currently on its dusty shelves.
These data refute claims by some members of the high court who allege that there is no need to open new chambers in the court.
The cumbersome workings of the Turkish judiciary came under scrutiny last week with the implementation of a new law restricting the length of time a suspect can be kept under arrest while awaiting or standing trial.
According to the change made to Article 102 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK), the maximum detention period will be three years for crimes under the jurisdiction of high criminal courts, while the maximum period of detention will be one-and-a-half years for most crimes not under their jurisdiction.
With the enforcement of the law, dozens of suspects, including major terror and murder suspects, have been released pending trial, leading to confusion and controversy amongst the public while exposing the heavy workload of the Supreme Court of Appeals.
To lighten the burden of the Supreme Court of Appeals, the Ministry of Justice has finalized a bill that reportedly includes plans to increase the number of chambers and judges in the high court as well as putting regional appellate courts into operation.
According to the plans of the government, the Supreme Court of Appeals will have 35 chambers and 271 judges with the appointment of 21 more judges and the establishment of three more chambers. In this way, thousands of case files will be taken from the dusty shelves of these courts, and the suspects will no longer have to wait for years to appear before judges.
High court judges searching for files in archives
Due to a newly amended law that limits lengthy detention periods for people whose cases have not been concluded, thus paving the way for the release of dozens of suspects, investigating judges of the Supreme Court of Appeals have been searching for case files falling within the scope of the law in dusty court archives. The enforcement of this law has added to the workload of investigating judges -- members of a high court who read and examine case files. The judges now spend a great deal of time in the archives, searching for cases in which suspects’ detention limits have expired. They must wear masks to prevent dust inhalation.
Another measure to alleviate the heavy workload of the high court, on which both the government and members of the high judiciary agree, is to put regional appellate courts into operation. A law on the establishment and authority of appellate courts, which aims to lighten the burden of the Supreme Court of Appeals, was approved by Parliament in 2004, but their establishment was delayed due to a lack of judges and prosecutors. These courts will serve as filters and decrease the number of cases referred to the high court by concluding a large number of cases.
Nearly 1,000 judges and prosecutors are expected to be employed in regional appellate courts, which will be established in nine provinces: İstanbul, Bursa, İzmir, Konya, Ankara, Samsun, Erzurum, Adana and Diyarbakır. There will be at least five chambers in these courts.
These courts will hear cases in which suspects were handed a maximum five years imprisonment by a local court. Cases that are under the jurisdiction of high criminal courts will continue to be referred to the Supreme Court of Appeals. Regional appellate courts are expected to conclude nearly 50 to 60 percent of appeals cases that would have been referred to the Supreme Court of Appeals. These courts will cut the number of cases referred to the appeals court, which is annually about 350,000, nearly in half.
According to official data for 2009, one out of every two cases heard by the criminal chambers of the Supreme Court of Appeals was overruled. The chambers overruled 127,000 of 218,000 cases, and only 42,000 rulings made by local courts were approved. In the same year, 14,800 cases were dropped after the statute of limitations expired. In 2010, 19,251 cases were dismissed due to the statute of limitations. According to data from the Supreme Court of Appeals, an estimated 55,000 cases will be dismissed in 2014.
Records show that 1,212,000 cases were carried over into the next year in 2010 since they could not be heard. The Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Public Prosecutor's Office reportedly sent 100,000 of 635,000 files it has to the General Directorate of State Archives on the grounds that it has no room available to keep them.