The initiator of the reforms is the prime minister, while the reason is distrust in the country’s courts
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has suggested that the Council of Europe not only help, but also take a direct part in reforming the country’s judicial system.
Why do the country’s courts need reforming?
The Armenian authorities explain the decision to conduct radical judicial and legal reform by the “distrust of the population towards the current judicial system.”
“Unlike the government and the parliament, the courts do not enjoy the trust of the people. That is why the decisions of the courts constantly create unrest in society, the public simply does not trust our judicial system, and this can be a source of permanent crisis”, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated.
European specialists will help to reform the judicial-legal system.
The delegation led by the Director General of the Council of Europe Human Rights Secretariat arrived in Armenia to discuss concrete steps and how to help with the changes. Christos Giakoumopoulos said that the structure welcomes and fully supports the steps of the Armenian authorities to reform the judicial system.
Among other reasons, Armenia’s Velvet Revolution of spring 2018 was partially brought about because people demanded independence of the courts, says Iskra Kirova, a specialist in judicial and legal reform and senior researcher at the Open Society Foundation of European Policy.
“Armenia really needs fundamental changes. The previous government fully controlled the composition of the courts. The notorious judicial system served the interests of the authorities in order to preserve [their power]”.
At the same time, the expert advises the current authorities of Armenia to seriously consider and not to be mistaken by the choice of mechanisms which will have to be resorted to during the reforms:
“The Prime Minister of Armenia and his government should clearly show to its international partners and their people that they are serious in the matter of judicial changes and are determined to carry out the reform on the right path.”
Impetus for reforms
The decision to reform the courts began when ex-President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan was released on bail, after the current and former presidents of Nagorno Karabakh, Bako Sahakyan and Arkady Ghukasyan, promised to be guarantors of Kocharyan’s bail.
They asked the judge to release Kocharyan on bail given his “contribution to the formation of the two Armenian republics, his huge contribution to the Karabakh war and the formation of the Armenian army.”
The former Armenian president was imprisoned for more than five months on charges of overthrowing the constitutional system and receiving a bribe of three million dollars.
Many were unhappy with the decision. After the announcement of the verdict, the Prime Minister of Armenia called on people to take to the streets and block the entrances to the courts. He explained that he was asking supporters to support their intention to reform the judicial system in this way.
According to the calculations of the public organization Informed Citizen, approximately 1,100 people responded to Nikol Pashinyan’s appeal. The action lasted for several hours.
In parallel with the live demonstration, the prime minister explained exactly how he intends to reform the judicial system:
All judges, without exception, must pass a vetting procedure. That is, the public will be made aware of the political connections of judges, their property, as well as their past activities, their professional and personal qualities.
All judges who have made decisions with violations recognized by the European Court of Human Rights must resign or be dismissed.
All judges who themselves realize that they cannot be objective must resign.
Within two months, transitional justice mechanisms that have been developed by the government over the previous seven to eight months should be implemented.
Parliament should prepare a legislative framework for the establishment of an independent judiciary.
While transitional justice mechanisms are actively discussed in Armenia, there is no consensus.
European experts promise to share from their experience and help the country choose the most successful among the possible options.