In what appeared to be a stern warning, President Serzh Sarkisian said on Friday that a state body overseeing Armenia’s judicial system must be fair and objective in taking disciplinary action against judges suspected of breaking the law.
He said this will be critical for the success of a four-year plan to reform the judiciary and the state security apparatus that was launched by the Armenian government recently.
The fresh reforms are meant to strengthen the rule of law in the country and, in particular, make Armenian courts more independent.
Sarkisian discussed the program’s implementation with members of the Justice Council and senior judges during a meeting at the Court of Cassation, Armenia’s highest body of criminal and administrative justice. In remarks publicized by his press office, he stressed that the courts must be not only independent but also “accountable” to the public and trusted by the latter.
“As you know very well, public trust can be gained through forming a uniform judicial practice and expediting a non-discriminatory disciplinary practice,” Sarkisian said. “So the key to solving existing problems is the disciplinary practice expedited by you. It must be based on clear and objective criteria for subjecting judges to disciplinary liability.”
“There must be no privileged officials within the system, and now is the time to take concrete actions,” he added. “At the same time, I want to point out that we must not start a witch hunt in the system.”
The Justice Council is the state body empowered to sanction judges and recommend their dismissal by the president of the republic. It is headed by Arman Mkrtumian, the controversial chairman of the Court of Cassation.
Over the past year Mkrtumian has faced angry protests by scores of lawyers over some of his decisions. Those include the sacking of a Yerevan judge who granted bail to a criminal suspect contrary to prosecutors’ wishes last year.
The judge, Samvel Mnatsakanian, complained about a lack of judicial independence in Armenia after the sacking. He claimed that many judges are primarily concerned with not upsetting high-level state authorities and the Court of Cassation in particular, rather than enforcing laws.