The Turkish Legal System

Turkey has a very effective legal system: sometimes slow, but fully functioning.

Unlike in some countries, you do not need to ‘buy’ the judges, but you do have to be diligent and pursue your case to make sure things happen without any unnecessary delay.

Recent changes following the failed coup of 2016 have not helped either its efficiency or credibility.

Video guide to the legal system in Turkey

You can learn about the legal system in Turkey by watching this full-length interview (below) with Turkish lawyer Başak Yıldız Orkun, or by scrolling down and reading the detailed guide that she has written with us.

The video guide below is a playlist – split into several parts. One part will play right after the other.

Making laws in Turkey

Turkey is unusual in that its legislature has only one chamber. This ‘unicameral’ approach means that the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (Turkiye Buyuk Millet Meclisi) deals with the entire legislative process. In most countries, there are two chambers – for example, the Senate and House of Representatives in the US or the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the UK.

The Assembly has 550 seats (which, following the April 2017 constitutional referendum, will increase to 600 at the next election). Members are directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by a proportional representation vote and serve a four-year term.

Laws may be proposed by members of the Assembly or by Council of Ministers.

The Council of Ministers (Bakanlar Kurulu) otherwise known as the Cabinet of Turkey (Türkiye Kabinesi) is the body that exercises supreme executive authority in Turkey. It is composed of the heads of the major ministries. Ministers are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Proposed laws are debated and then submitted for the approval of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister accepts or declines the new law within 15 days and, if approved, it is published in the Official Gazette (T.C. Resmi Gazete).

The Official Gazette is published every weekday and contains new legislation (laws, decisions of the Council of Ministers, regulations, communiqués etc.), certain case law and various official notices, especially those relating to public administration appointments and public tenders.

Laws become effective 45 days after being published in the Official Gazette or, if the Assembly has decided to implement a law on another date, on the date stated.

Once passed, laws remain valid indefinitely or until they are specifically repealed (cancelled) by the Assembly or by a clause in the law itself.

Different types of laws in Turkey

In Turkey, laws are classified as falling into different types. The type that applies to any particular law is stated clearly in the law itself.

Criminal laws

Criminal laws are laws that punish certain types of conduct. It is the existence of a punishment (rather than a simple right to compensation) that distinguishes criminal laws from all the other categories of law.

The punishment could be a fine, imprisonment, compulsory public service, loss of civil rights etc. A person found guilty of a criminal offence can be ordered to suffer one or more of these penalties.

Criminal laws usually also give rise to the right of compensation to the victim.

All criminal laws in Turkey are set out in the Turkish Penal Code so any proposed new criminal law is in the form of an amendment to that code.

Commercial laws

Turkey’s commercial law is set out in the Turkish Commercial Code, revised in 2012.

The new law was drafted in response to Turkey’s negotiations for full-membership of the European Union (which required its laws to be harmonized with those of the EU) and its World Trade Organization membership obligations (which required better regulation of competition).

Employment laws

These are set out in the Turkish Labour code. See our Guide to Employment Law in Turkey.

Administrative laws

The Turkish judicial system makes a distinction between issues between private individuals or companies and issues in relation to the Government or the State and their various administrative entities.

Disputes between individuals or businesses and governmental bodies are dealt with under a special set of rules and a special court system.

Civil laws

Civil law covers the relationships between people. For these purposes, “people” means both real human beings and companies that have a separate legal identity or personality. Typical areas of civil law are the Law of Obligations (covering contracts and other duties) and the general Civil Law covering Family Law, Personal Law, Property Law, Inheritance Law, etc.

The key characteristic of civil law is that is gives rise to the obligation to compensate the other party if a person does not comply with the requirements of the law. It may also give rise to the power of obtaining a court order forcing somebody to do something they would not otherwise do – or to refrain from doing something they should not be doing.

The Civil Code was introduced in 1926 (replacing the earlier Sharia law that applied during the Ottoman Empire) and was based on the Swiss Civil Code: in turn influenced by the French civil codes. As such, it has a very European feel to it.

Insurance laws

In Turkey, the insurance sector is regulated by different types of laws, primarily the Commercial Code (for insurance contracts), the Insurance Law itself (for corporate, regulatory and operational matters) and the Turkish Obligations Code (for general contract law provisions).

Why are there these different systems of law in Turkey?

The law is, pretty much, a coherent whole and – from the end user’s point of view – you do not need to get too excited about these administrative divisions. However, you need to know they exist and understand a little about them or you will not understand the advice given by your lawyers and the processes you will be following.

The divisions are mainly for administrative convenience. These various types of cases each have similarities with other cases of the same type.

You should note that a particular set of circumstances can fall into a legal category other than that which first seems obvious and, sometimes, into two or more legal categories. For example, if a person is seeking a divorce on the basis that their husband has been violent towards them, this will be a matter of family law (and so dealt with under the Civil Code) but the violence will probably also constitute a criminal offence and so could be punished under the Penal Code.

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