“Peace at home, peace in the world!” said Atatürk, the founder of Modern Turkey. I would like to expand what he meant by saying that justice and freedoms bring peace at home and in the world, writes Mehmet Gun, international lawyer, founder and Chairman of the Better Justice Association, an independent Turkish think tank focused on improving the rule of law.
It is the lack of freedoms and failure of justice systems that causes hostilities between nations. This is what we are seeing with Russia’s invasion of peaceful Ukraine bringing catastrophic destruction, human tragedy, and instability.
Creating better justice systems is not an academic debate – this is a critical issue as we watch Ukraine fight bravely for its future and hope never to see another crisis like this again.
Violence starts with poor justice systems
Well aware of the destruction that aggression causes and the benefits peace brings, nations do not naturally resort to aggression. However autocratic rulers who are not checked by their public may turn their societies against others.
Lack of justice and freedoms causes unrest in any society. We have seen people take to maidans and streets to demand greater freedoms in North African countries, in the Arab peninsula, in Iran, Kazakhstan and Belarus to name but a few.
This is more than a domestic problem. When people feel they do not have access to justice, they become disillusioned. Governments become more authoritarian and state oppression rises to contain popular discontent. Unchecked, autocratic leaders will grab and monopolize state power. The public will be deprived of a voice in the running of their own country.
Such oppressive autocratic regimes inevitably turn into a security concern for the international community.
As the old Turkish saying puts it: justice is the foundation of the state. This sentence is displayed in all Turkish courtrooms. In this context, there is a cycle of justice – a powerful state depends on a strong army; a strong army relies on taxes; taxes – on businesses and businesses depend on justice in the society. The old Turkish state tradition of khans and emperors appearing before judges as equals with their subjects and giving account of their rulings emanates from this notion. The most famous is the one that Fatih Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror who was given a severe punishment – chopping of his hands – against a Greek architect.
This is the kind of symbolic justice that people want to see. In this information age when people can easily compare themselves with others, there will be no end to social unrest unless every nation can reach the same or similar standards of justice, welfare, and governance.
Therefore, justice and freedoms bring peace and welfare to the people and peace and stability in the world.
Courts and judges are central to upholding justice – and it is important to look carefully at how they function. We at the Better Justice Association (BJA) have done extensive research into the best ways to ensure strong justice systems that people can trust. In this article, I will discuss the key recommendations – we hope to contribute to this valuable debate and offer ideas that may contribute to stronger, peaceful democracies around the world.
The basics of realizing justice
The Judiciary is the most important function of a state as it ensures laws are upheld and has a duty to impose checks and balances on the executive within the rule of law.
Being efficient, properly functioning, accountable, and independent are basic qualifications for a perfect judiciary. None of these qualities should be absent but independence is the first, foremost and most important element of the judiciary’s functioning.
It is the public that grant, safeguard, or compromise the independence to the judiciary depending on whether it serves the interests of the people and is properly accountable. Therefore, the judiciary must deliver quality services in a manner to earn the popular support that would protect its independence.
Regulating for quality judicial services
Because the judiciary’s services need to be properly defined and regulated, a regulatory institution is required. Such an institution should deal with all aspects of judicial services. Independence should be treated as the first and absolute condition for quality judicial service.
The regulator should be central to judiciary and be water-tight against any potentiality of any influence by any individual, group, or coalition.
We at the Better Justice Association propose that the best way to achieve that is by establishing a Supreme Authority of Justice “SAoJ”, a new type of independent regulator.
Judicial Professional Associations
Judicial service providers should be independently organised into distinct associations for every judicial profession. Each association should be managed by their democratically elected members.
These institutions must be taken outside the political influence sphere, be truly accountable and subject to judicial review. They should be given two types of duties: defending the rule of law and judicial independence and developing their members and deontological aspects of the profession.
Accountability and judicial review
The judiciary should be held accountable for its achievements and failures. Accountability should aim to improve service quality and to prevent abuses of judicial privileges.
The judiciary’s accountability must not be entrusted to the ruling politicians. There is a clear conflict of interest when the Judiciary’s main duty to hold the executive to account.
Instead, accountability should be addressed thorough through several other ways. First, any and all decisions should be transparent and open for efficient judicial review. Any member of the public should be able to trigger the judicial review and at no cost.
The BJA proposes to establish a dedicated Supreme Court of Justice, “SCoJ” for this purpose.
To sum up, peace and stability around the world starts with legal systems that public can trust in every country. This can only be delivered with an independent, properly regulated judiciary to serve the people that need them. Now is the time for nations to take a look at their justice systems and see if there is a better way – or we will see more tragic conflict in the future.