In Turkey, Raised Platform, Level Justice

     (CN) – Turkey’s judicial custom of having a prosecutor deliver arguments from a raised platform did not violate the rights of one of its citizens who was convicted of murder, the European Court of Human Rights ruled.
     Ümit Diriöz, 35, killed a bystander after he fired a pistol several times during a brawl on Sept. 9, 2000.
     Turkish authorities found him several months later with a forged identity card. Diriöz signed away his right to counsel during his interrogation, and a prosecutor won his conviction later that year.
     After being sentenced for 30 years, Diriöz challenged the outcome of trial from prison, with a novel appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
     Diriöz claimed that Turkey violated the principle of “equality of arms,” through its practice of placing the defense physically lower than the prosecution. He also complained that the country typically has the prosecutor and judge enter from the same door, and the defense enters with the public.
     Seven years after his appeal, a seven-judge panel from the human rights body unanimously found that Diriöz’s appeal was “manifestly ill-founded.”
     “The government explained that the seating arrangements for judges and prosecutors in the courtroom was an established practice in Turkish procedural law which took account of the fact that the two professions followed the same training, that their members sat the same examinations and that it was possible to change from one profession to the other,” the court stated in a press release. “The government considered that the main idea was that the prosecutor, in so far as he or she represented the public interest had to respect both the interests of the defense and the rights of the victim. The prosecutor gathered evidence not only against the accused, but also in his or her favor. The physical position of the prosecutor, placed at a higher level than that of the defense and the victim, but at a distance from the judges, was symbolical.
     “The Court observed that, as it had already held in previous decisions, the seating arrangements complained of by Mr. Diriöz conferred a privileged physical position on the prosecutor in the courtroom, but did not place the accused in a disadvantageous position regarding the defense of his or her interests. It could not be argued that there had been a breach of the principle of equality of arms. Accordingly, the Court declared Mr. Diriöz’s complaint inadmissible as manifestly ill-founded.”
     The judges were also unconvinced that Turkish authorities should not have allowed Diriöz to forego his right to an attorney during his interrogation.
     “The Court observed that neither the letter nor the spirit of Article 6 of the Convention prevented a person from waiving of his or her own free will the guarantees of a fair trial,” the court’s release states. “That waiver had to be unequivocally established and attended by minimum safeguards commensurate with its gravity.”
     The ruling, issued Thursday and only available in French, has not yet been finalized.

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