Following a 2000 constitutional reform to make its judiciary more independent, Finland introduced a special board for the appointment of judges that was characterized by a diverse and pluralist membership structure, the country’s former Justice Minister Johannes Koskinen has said.

Koskinen, a member of the Constitutional Law Committee in the Finnish Parliament and a former justice minister, told Today’s Zaman that reforms introduced to the appointment of judges in 2000 made the judiciary as a whole more independent. “You could say that the independence of the judiciary was made stronger. The possibility of the administration or the minister of justice having an influence on this recruitment process was restricted. There was no opposition from the judges to these changes,” Koskinen added.

Under its reforms, Finland established a Judicial Appointments Board for appointing judges based on the board’s proposals, accompanied by justifications, for the nominations. The board contains mainly members of the judiciary, but three members are from outside the judiciary. One is a practicing lawyer appointed by the bar association, another is a prosecutor appointed by the prosecutor general, and the third is an academic appointed by the Ministry of Justice. With the exception of Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court justices, the board prepares lists of candidates to fill positions in the judiciary.

Turkey is going through similar changes in its own Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK); Parliament approved recent amendments to change the composition of the HSYK and the way it operates. Faced with criticism that the board is only composed of judges from supreme judicial bodies, with no possibility of appeal to its decisions, the government pushed the reform package through Parliament, effectively making the board more diverse and accountable. The reforms envisage broader representation in the board from all walks of judiciary-related professions including academia, bar associations and lower-level district courts.

Koskinen underlined that introduction of the Judicial Appointments Board was welcomed by many in Finland, including bar associations and lawyers. Though the justice minister formally forwards candidates to the president for approval, the nominations usually are the board’s recommendations. “Only in one case in a decade has the justice minister intervened in a close vote on the board and made another suggestion to the president,” he recalled. In Finland, the Ministry of Justice is charged with administrative and budgetary matters relating to the courts of law.

Stressing that a broad consensus was achieved in formulating the new constitution, Koskinen said 197 members of the 200-member Finnish parliament approved the changes. “Public support for the new changes was hovering at around 80 percent,” he said. The government sent a copy of the new constitution to every home, a first in Finland, to generate wide support for the new Constitution. “Of course a partial reform of the constitution in 1995 along the lines of the European Convention on Human Rights [ECHR] was a major helping hand in speeding up the process in 2000,” he added.

Koskinen argued that the Finnish reform process inspired many in new democracies at the time in Eastern and Central European countries. “Today basic Finnish rights are very modern. We combined the best parts of the ECHR and modern constitutional thinking. It is up to the legislature now to determine how these rights will be implemented in daily lives,” he said.

Koskinen is a ranking member of the Social Democratic Party of Finland (SDP) and member of the Presidency for the Party of European Socialists (PES), in which Turkey’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) is also an associate member. He is critical of CHP policies that do not uphold socialist values. “It is clear that the CHP wants to maintain special structures and safeguard them,” he said, describing the party’s position on constitutional changes as a “peculiar one.” “When it comes to conventional human rights, the line is clear. It is important to have better rights for citizens and a well-working democracy,” Koskinen emphasized.

Finland is a strong supporter of Turkey’s EU candidacy, but Koskinen sounded pessimistic on the prospect of Turkey’s full membership against the background of the Greek financial crisis and problems with new members like Bulgaria and Romania. “Criticisms are leveled against these countries, that they were accepted too early,” he said, adding, “So it makes rapid enlargement in the case of Turkey maybe very difficult.” Koskinen said that abolishing hindrances step-by-step, with constitutional reforms or the resolution of the Kurdish issue, may help Turkey’s bid.

The Finnish deputy also called for a speedy resolution to the Cyprus issue, saying the disagreement between Turkey and Cyprus has been hampering close cooperation between the EU and NATO.

Read the article on Today’s Zaman

Constitutional reform was hailed by judiciary, says Finnish deputy

Following a 2000 constitutional reform to make its judiciary more independent, Finland introduced a special board for the appointment of judges that was characterized by a diverse and pluralist membership structure, the country’s former Justice Minister Johannes Koskinen has said.

Koskinen, a member of the Constitutional Law Committee in the Finnish Parliament and a former justice minister, told Today’s Zaman that reforms introduced to the appointment of judges in 2000 made the judiciary as a whole more independent. “You could say that the independence of the judiciary was made stronger. The possibility of the administration or the minister of justice having an influence on this recruitment process was restricted. There was no opposition from the judges to these changes,” Koskinen added.

Under its reforms, Finland established a Judicial Appointments Board for appointing judges based on the board’s proposals, accompanied by justifications, for the nominations. The board contains mainly members of the judiciary, but three members are from outside the judiciary. One is a practicing lawyer appointed by the bar association, another is a prosecutor appointed by the prosecutor general, and the third is an academic appointed by the Ministry of Justice. With the exception of Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court justices, the board prepares lists of candidates to fill positions in the judiciary.

Turkey is going through similar changes in its own Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK); Parliament approved recent amendments to change the composition of the HSYK and the way it operates. Faced with criticism that the board is only composed of judges from supreme judicial bodies, with no possibility of appeal to its decisions, the government pushed the reform package through Parliament, effectively making the board more diverse and accountable. The reforms envisage broader representation in the board from all walks of judiciary-related professions including academia, bar associations and lower-level district courts.

Koskinen underlined that introduction of the Judicial Appointments Board was welcomed by many in Finland, including bar associations and lawyers. Though the justice minister formally forwards candidates to the president for approval, the nominations usually are the board’s recommendations. “Only in one case in a decade has the justice minister intervened in a close vote on the board and made another suggestion to the president,” he recalled. In Finland, the Ministry of Justice is charged with administrative and budgetary matters relating to the courts of law.

Stressing that a broad consensus was achieved in formulating the new constitution, Koskinen said 197 members of the 200-member Finnish parliament approved the changes. “Public support for the new changes was hovering at around 80 percent,” he said. The government sent a copy of the new constitution to every home, a first in Finland, to generate wide support for the new Constitution. “Of course a partial reform of the constitution in 1995 along the lines of the European Convention on Human Rights [ECHR] was a major helping hand in speeding up the process in 2000,” he added.

Koskinen argued that the Finnish reform process inspired many in new democracies at the time in Eastern and Central European countries. “Today basic Finnish rights are very modern. We combined the best parts of the ECHR and modern constitutional thinking. It is up to the legislature now to determine how these rights will be implemented in daily lives,” he said.

Koskinen is a ranking member of the Social Democratic Party of Finland (SDP) and member of the Presidency for the Party of European Socialists (PES), in which Turkey’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) is also an associate member. He is critical of CHP policies that do not uphold socialist values. “It is clear that the CHP wants to maintain special structures and safeguard them,” he said, describing the party’s position on constitutional changes as a “peculiar one.” “When it comes to conventional human rights, the line is clear. It is important to have better rights for citizens and a well-working democracy,” Koskinen emphasized.

Finland is a strong supporter of Turkey’s EU candidacy, but Koskinen sounded pessimistic on the prospect of Turkey’s full membership against the background of the Greek financial crisis and problems with new members like Bulgaria and Romania. “Criticisms are leveled against these countries, that they were accepted too early,” he said, adding, “So it makes rapid enlargement in the case of Turkey maybe very difficult.” Koskinen said that abolishing hindrances step-by-step, with constitutional reforms or the resolution of the Kurdish issue, may help Turkey’s bid.

The Finnish deputy also called for a speedy resolution to the Cyprus issue, saying the disagreement between Turkey and Cyprus has been hampering close cooperation between the EU and NATO.

Read the article on Today’s Zaman

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