By Anush Dashtents
One of Armenia’s most senior judges called on Friday for a sweeping overhaul of the country’s judicial system, already reformed since independence. Henrik Danielian, the chief justice of the Armenian Court of Appeals – the highest body of criminal justice – said the existing three-level hierarchy of courts has proved ineffective and should be simplified.
“The experience of the last two and a half years has shown that this system is not quite flexible, meaning that cases often drag on for years,” Danielian told RFE/RL. “We are now thinking about shortening the distance which court cases have to cross at present.”
In practice, that should involve the scrapping of the mid-level Review Court that can overrule verdicts passed by courts of first instance, Danielian said. He argued that the Review Court, whose rulings can in turn be changed by the Court of Appeals, only “duplicate” the lower courts, causing unnecessary delays in legal proceedings.
The judge also called for the introduction of what he described as “specialized courts” that would dealing with exclusively criminal, civil and economic cases. Judges specializing in one of the three areas would hand down more fair and objective rulings, according to Danielian.
Armenia scrapped the Soviet-era judicial system in late 1995, shortly after the enactment of a new constitution. But having undergone substantial structural reform, the judiciary is still seen as weak, corrupt and mistrusted by the population. Judges, the vast majority of whom are named and can be dismissed by the president of the republic, rarely take decisions opposed by the government.
“Our judicial system still doesn’t work, it’s not even in the development phase,” said Ruben Sahakian, a leading trial lawyer.
Judge Danielian would not say how he plans to campaign for another judicial reform, which would require changes in the Armenian constitution. Under Armenian law, amendments in the basic law must be approved at a nationwide referendum.