Lawyers in Turkey stand accused of plotting to overthrow the government under the guise of investigating a corruption scandal, it emerged last week.

The government has retaliated by adopting legislation that places the formerly independent judiciary under the direct control of politicians.

Opposition leaders described the new legislation as a ‘modern coup d’état’ that allows the government to appoint judges and prosecutors and gives the justice minister ‘exceptional authority’.

Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pictured) defended the new legislation allowing the restructuring of Turkey’s top judicial institution, the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors.

Erdogan, who has been in office for 11 years, argued that tighter control over the judiciary was necessary to counter a plot to overthrow his government.

The alleged plot, a corruption investigation involving the sons of three former ministers, as well as a number of prominent businessmen, has so far led Erdogan’s government to dismiss hundreds of judges and prosecutors.

Faruk Logoglu, a deputy chair of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), contested Erdogan’s claim. The law aimed ‘to transform the Turkish state into a [undemocratic] sultanate’, he said. ‘It is wrong to give the justice minister such exceptional authority.’

The Law Society’s human rights committee said the new legislation challenges the independence of the judiciary and places restrictions on free speech.

Chair Professor Sara Chandler said: ‘The legislation passed earlier this week, to bring the country’s top judicial body under justice ministry influence, is unconstitutional and undermines the judiciary’s independence.

‘The Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors is responsible for appointing members of the judiciary, is an independent body and should remain so.’

The committee has a strong relationship with lawyers in Turkey, having run training courses. The committee has also joined several international trial observation missions during the past 12 months at the trials of Turkish lawyers.