Turkey’s ruling party unveils new legislation to turn lawyers into informants

Protesting lawyers take part in a demonstration against a government draft bill on changing the system of bar associations on July 10, 2020, in Ankara. Turkey's ruling party on June 30 presented a bill to parliament on changing the system of bar associations that opponents say will dent lawyers' independence and influence. 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 mandating that lawyers report suspicious activities related to the cases they handle to the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK), the Kronos news website reported.

The proposal, which effectively assigns lawyers the role of “financial intelligence” agents, has drawn significant backlash for potentially violating attorney-client privilege and undermining the legal profession’s integrity.

Similar legislation previously faced criticism and was annulled by the Constitutional Court earlier this year due to concerns over its implications for the legal profession. Despite this, the AKP has revised and resubmitted the bill, purportedly addressing the court’s reasons for annulment.

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

The proposal’s justification states, “The regulation is of great importance in terms of preventing the laundering of criminal proceeds and the financing of terrorism.” It mandates that lawyers provide “financial intelligence” to MASAK concerning their clients or related transactions, while explicitly excluding information protected under defense rights and professional confidentiality.

Critics argue that the legislation compromises the legal profession by positioning lawyers as informants, thereby damaging the trust inherent in attorney-client relationships. The legal community has expressed outrage, emphasizing that the proposal could fundamentally alter the nature of legal practice in Turkey.

In recent years, there have been numerous reports and criticisms from both domestic and international observers regarding the government’s influence over the judiciary.

Since a 2016 failed coup, following which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens under the pretext of an anti-coup fight, some 1,700 lawyers have been prosecuted, with 700 of them put in pretrial detention.

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

Take a second to support Stockholm Center for Freedom on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!