Observations 19-08-2019

Sinds een paar weken werken wij samen met een ‘inhouse’ advocaat Turks recht. Laatst heb ik hem meegenomen naar een zitting. Na de zitting vertelde hij mij dat hij een cultuur shock had ondergaan. Voor mijn blog heb ik hem gevraagd om zijn ervaringen op te schrijven. De inhoud spreekt voor zich. We mogen blij zijn met onze rechters. Dat mag ook een keertje gezegd worden!

From planning of towns to the Dutch attitude to life, many things have fascinated me since I moved to the Netherlands last September. However, I did not anticipate anything extraordinary, until I witnessed a trial in a Dutch courthouse with Mr. Ontas and his client in Haarlem a couple of weeks ago. The experience was very thrilling for me.

We waited for a few minutes in the entrance hall of the courthouse following the tight security check. The floor was very clean, and the interiors were splendid. Are there always so few people in Dutch courthouses? If you see such a few people in a courthouse in Turkey, it has most probably been moved to another place or you have missed the working hours.

When we went downstairs, I saw a reception desk right across the stairs behind which a pleasant woman greeted us. Probably it has another name in Dutch, but it reminded me of a reception desk of a private corporation. Mr. Ontas apprised the nice woman of our trial, and then she directed us to the waiting room where we met the plaintiff and her attorney. Right after we hung our coats on the rack, the same nice woman kindly asked us to follow her to the courtroom. The simply-furnished courtroom was quiet and well-designed like the rest of the courthouse. The atmosphere was very official but peaceful. The trial began right on time after the judge welcomed parties. So far everything went so smoothly, something one does not witness in a Turkish court.

In Turkey a court usually has to try a number of cases each day and trial lawyers know well that a trial usually does not begin on time, and expect to wait for hours. They have a preference: They can wait in front of the courtroom or in the bar room, which is usually a small room allocated for the use of lawyers in courthouses. However, lawyer waiting in the bar room may not hear the silentiary (mubasir), who invites parties to the courtroom by calling out their names in front of the courtroom, despite his sonorous and rotund voice. Therefore we usually see a number of lawyers getting agitated whilst waiting in front of courtrooms in Turkey. The Turkish courtrooms are perhaps not as fancy as Dutch courtrooms, but they are at least as official.

Since I do not speak Dutch, I could focus on the procedures during the trial instead of pondering on the merits of the case. Following the submissions of written statements of the parties to the judge, attorneys presented their arguments on the case, each for around half an hour. I noticed the Judge and her clerk took some notes during these speeches, and while taking notes the judge asked a few questions both to lawyers and the parties. The judge had examined the case beforehand and it was obvious that she was going to have a clear opinion at the end of the trial. This literally means that this trial was the last chance for the parties to affect judge’s opinion. Judge stated that she will render her decision in two weeks and ended the session.

Trials in civil courts are conducted in a very different way in Turkey. Each trial consists of several or many sessions depending on the features of case. Since judges have numerous trials in a day, one session lasts no more than 10 minutes in usual circumstances. Unlike judges in the Netherlands, Turkish judges usually cannot examine the case before each session, and a trial may ultimately last for years due to the excessive number of cases. As you may anticipate under the circumstances, one may not see any attorney in sessions verbally presenting his/her arguments to the judge. The most common phrase therefore in session minutes is “the plaintiff’s/defendant’s attorney repeated his/her pleading.” In result, 10-minute judgment in each session is merely a procedural gathering where neither attorneys nor the judge usually do anything affecting the merits of the case.

As a lawyer who practiced litigation in Turkey, I am glad to have had the opportunity to attend to a trial in a Dutch courthouse and observe the differences between Turkish and Dutch trials. Hopefully the ongoing legal reforms in Turkey will gradually improve both physical and procedural conditions of Turkish courts, and ultimately decrease these differences.

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