By Shakeh Avoyan
Three out of four appeals against verdicts handed down by Armenian courts of first instance last year were turned down by higher courts, according to official data. Figures released by an association of Armenian judges show that specialized panels of judges of the Review Court changed or overruled only 563 of 2266 such rulings.
The highest rate of rejections was registered in criminal cases. Verdict appeals in civilian cases tended to be more successful, with approximately a third of them partly or fully accepted. Litigants in commercial disputes had the best chances of having the higher court change decisions with which they were not satisfied. Fifty-two percent of 367 such appeals were successful in 2002.
Scant chances of success were apparently the main reason why less than a tenth of some 25,800 rulings issued by the lower courts were appealed. Nearly 98 percent of have remained unchanged.
Armenian judiciary, which has undergone substantial structural changes since Soviet times, is still susceptible to political pressure and riddled with corruption. A considerable part of complaints filed by ordinary citizens to the presidential commission on human rights concerns judicial matters.
The continuing lack of public trust in its independence was this week admitted by Justice Minister David Harutiunian. But he also complained that many Armenians remain ignorant about opportunities for addressing their grievances through court action. He said many of them lose cases due to the absence of legal counseling.
The authorities say that constitutional amendments proposed by President Robert Kocharian will strengthen the independence of the Armenian courts by stripping the head of state of the right to dismiss the overwhelming majority of the country’s judges. The draft amendments also call for a sweeping overhaul of the presidential Justice Council, the body which puts forward candidacies of the judges. Seven out of the council’s ten members would be selected by the serving judges, and not appointed by the president as is the case now.