Can a court disregard a previous court judgment: the Constitutional Court answers in the affirmative
Justice is the cornerstone of societies and ensuring justice starts with protecting the right of access to the courts. However, sometimes, even seemingly final court decisions may be disregarded in the event of a violation of the right of access to the courts. How? This article highlights the importance of access to justice and how it can affect judgments.
Right of Access to Court: The First Step to Justice
The right of access to a court represents the right of every individual to participate in a fair judicial process in the pursuit of justice. This right is guaranteed by the legal provisions such as Article 36 of the Turkish Constitution.
Is it Possible to Disregard Final Judgments?
Yes, in the event of violating the right of access to a court, even a previously finalized court decision can be disregarded, according to the Constitutional Court’s recent judgment.
In this decision, the applicant requested pecuniary and non-pecuniary compensation from the employer, claiming that he was disabled as a result of a work accident. As a result of the examination, the applicant’s disability rate was initially determined as 0% but was later corrected to 24% after the applicant’s objection.
In the first compensation case, the court partially accepted the compensation claim, accepting that the employer and the applicant were at fault for the 0% disability rate.
In the second compensation case filed after the correction of the disability rate, the court awarded a higher pecuniary and non-pecuniary compensation in favor of the applicant. Thereupon, the employer filed an appeal with the Court of Appeal and the court reversed the local court’s decision, stating that the previous case with the same object was finalized. The applicant subsequently requested the correction of the decision, but this request was also rejected. Then, the applicant claimed that this decision was unconstitutional and brought the matter to the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court stated in its decision that the applicant claimed that his right of access to the court was violated based on Article 36 of the Turkish Constitution and that this claim was admissible. Assessing the applicant’s case, the court argued that the processes of determining the rate of disability and the compensation case were handled separately and therefore it was unfair to dismiss the second case for a reason that was not based on a final judgment. The Constitutional Court stated that the administration played a role in delaying the process of determining the rate of disability and that the courts strictly interpreted the procedural rules, making it almost impossible for the applicant to access the court.
Turkish Civil Procedure Law already provides statutory footing for the annulment of a court judgment. However, the fact that a court judgment, which constitutes res judicata, can, in exceptional circumstances and with the view of providing justice, be disregarded, despite not having been annulled, is a new concept introduced by the Constitutional Court into Turkish law. The ramifications of the decision in question are, however, not clear, since the courts may now use wide discretion to disregard prior court judgments.
This article has been authored by Ergin Mizrahi, LL.M. (Senior Partner and Head of Disputes) and Alara Unal Orak (Senior Associate).