CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Against the background of widespread, violent protests, Chief Justice Brent Benjamin of the West Virginia Supreme Court traveled to Turkey earlier this month to advise Turkish judges on ways to improve their country's justice system.
Turkish judges hope their nation can "move towards a stable, predictable system," Benjamin said. He said the Turkish justice system faces several serious challenges.
According to Benjamin, one of eight American judges who made the trip, judicial procedures are slow and cumbersome and often leave a backlog of cases, since judges must investigate as well as adjudicate cases.
Some Turkish judges he spoke to also expressed concern that the Turkish government has failed to adequately protect certain constitutional rights that safeguard political expression.
Turkish judges sought advice on how to protect basic civil rights such as free speech and privacy, Benjamin said.
"I have to applaud them," he said. "They're trying to make their system better."
Benjamin noted that national security concerns often take precedence over efforts to protect personal privacy and free speech in Turkey.
Turkey, which shares a border with Iraq, Syria and Iran, often faces terrorist and other national security threats.
"There is a great deal of concern about terrorism and international lawlessness," Benjamin said.
Turkish officials must learn to strike a delicate balance between protecting national security and personal rights, Benjamin said.
However, as protests raged throughout the country, Turkish officials did not ask American judges about how to handle the demonstrations -- and the Americans refrained from offering advice. Benjamin said it would have been inappropriate to suggest how Turkish officials should handle the situation.
"It would have been presumptuous," he said.
Nevertheless, the issues discussed have consumed public debate in Turkey as protesters swarmed Taksim Square in Istanbul and the police unleashed tear gas to subdue the unruly crowds last week. Five Turks have died since the protests began.