Turkey’s Ruling Party Unveils New Law Aimed at Turning Lawyers into Informants

Turkey’s Ruling Party Unveils New Law Aimed at Turning Lawyers into Informants

Lawyers protest against a government bill to change the bar association system on July 10, 2020, in Ankara. Turkey’s ruling party introduced a bill to parliament on June 30 to change the bar association system, which opponents say will undermine the independence and influence of lawyers. Adem ALTAN / AFP

A new bill submitted by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to the country’s parliament has sparked controversy by requiring lawyers to report suspicious activity related to cases they handle to the Financial Crimes Investigation Council (MASAK), news website Kronos reported.

The proposal, which effectively assigns lawyers the role of “financial intelligence” agents, has drawn widespread backlash, with concerns that it would potentially violate attorney-client privilege and undermine the integrity of the legal profession.

A similar law had already been criticized and struck down by the Constitutional Court earlier this year due to concerns about its implications for the legal profession. Despite this, the AKP revised and resubmitted the bill, apparently responding to the court’s reasons for striking down the bill.

The revised proposal requires lawyers to report suspicious transactions involving real estate transactions and the creation and management of companies, foundations and associations as well as the management of bank and securities accounts and any assets in those accounts.

The bill is justified as follows: “The regulation is of great importance for the prevention of laundering of proceeds of crime and the financing of terrorism.” It requires lawyers to provide MASAK with “financial information” concerning their clients or transactions related to them, while explicitly excluding information protected by the rights of the defence and professional secrecy.

Critics say the legislation undermines the legal profession by positioning lawyers as informers, undermining the trust inherent in attorney-client relationships. The legal community has expressed outrage, stressing that the proposal could fundamentally change the nature of legal practice in Turkey.

In recent years, there have been numerous reports and criticisms by national and international observers regarding the government’s influence on the judicial system.

Since the failed coup in 2016, following which President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan’s administration launched a massive crackdown on non-loyal citizens under the pretext of fighting the coup, some 1,700 lawyers have been prosecuted, including 700 in pretrial detention.

Turkey was ranked 117th out of 142 countries in the rule of law index published by the World Justice Project (WJP) in October, a sign of the deterioration of the rule of law in the country.

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