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Turkey: Judicial Personnel

Volume 774: debated on Wednesday 7 September 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the detention and removal from office of judicial personnel in Turkey.

My Lords, we strongly condemn the attempted coup on 15 July. Subsequently, the Turkish Government have suspended 3,688 judges and prosecutors, of whom 2,847 have been sacked. More than 600 are in pretrial detention. We have urged the Turkish Government to respect due process and the rule of law, including when the Minister for Europe and the Americas visited Turkey in July. The Turkish Government have assured us they recognise the importance of this.

I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. I think we all accept that the judiciary and military in Turkey have played an important part in building the modern state. Having looked at the speed with which these lists were drawn up, many of us question whether they were not drawn up before the coup. Will the Government undertake to press the Turkish Government to justify in all these cases why it is so necessary to lock up such a large number of the middle class?

My Lords, we should recall that the attempted coup, which I expect noble Lords may have seen on television, was indeed an extremely dangerous security moment for Turkey and the region. We have, of course, maintained our conversation with the Turkish Government about the importance of having a proportionate response. We continue to call for due process to be followed and human rights respected. However, it was right that my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe and the Americas went as soon as possible after 15 July to offer what support the UK might give to the Turkish Government.

My Lords, do the Government think that we will have more effect in attempting to influence the Turkish Government independently or jointly with our European partners? Now that we have decided to leave the European Union, have the Government abandoned their long-term commitment that Turkey should move towards EU membership and should therefore meet criteria set on a European basis for good governance and separation of powers?

My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware more than most, we are still a member of the European Union. We also have bilateral relationships with Turkey, which is demonstrated by the way in which our Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Minister for Europe have engaged with Turkey in these difficult times. Our view on the accession of Turkey to the EU remains the same. We are committed to supporting security and prosperity across Europe. That means that anybody who wishes to gain access to the European Union has to demonstrate that they are able to meet all the demands of opening and closing the relevant chapters. While we remain a member of the European Union, we have a say in that process.

My Lords, obviously, maintaining a strong collective international response is vital in this situation, bearing in mind Turkey’s strategic position in the fight against ISIS and other extremists. Can the Minister tell the House exactly how we are maintaining a collective response, not just with our friends in the EU but particularly within NATO and with the US?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise the point about the importance of Turkey within the security systems across the whole of Europe. It is a valued member of NATO, and I believe that it is the second largest contributor of troops to NATO forces. We maintain that relationship through our work from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and it is at as high a level as it ever has been. Turkey is a valued partner.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House the Government’s view on the apparent rapprochement between President Erdogan and President Putin?

My Lords, it is true that there are discussions between Heads of State, which vary from time to time. I noted that there were discussions between President Erdogan and President Putin. On the other hand, our own Prime Minister has also met President Putin. One should not read too much into such meetings.

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness can tell the House what kind of work these judges were doing. I rather think that, following the French system, which I think the Turkish Government do, they are investigating judges rather than the kind of judges we are familiar with, which makes their seizure even more sinister. Do we know how many judges are left in their position, so that we can put it into some sort of proportion?

My Lords, I have with me only the figures on the number of judges and prosecutors who have been sacked out of those who were suspended, but I will look specifically to see whether we have those figures. The noble and learned Lord is absolutely right to point out the different, investigatory system that pertains in Turkey. We have represented throughout that any response must be proportionate and that the rule of law has to pertain, which includes having a proper, independent judicial system.

My Lords, are newspaper reports that the Russian air force is now stationing military aircraft on Turkish territory to be believed; and if so, does that relate to my noble friend’s earlier answer?

My Lords, the Russians still have a base in Syria and their aircraft are certainly based there. Turkey is a valued partner in the battle against Daesh. Without it, the coalition forces would not be able to have their bases there.