Armenia’s national bar association on Thursday expressed concern about what it described as excessive fees charged by lawyers filing libel suits against independent media outlets on behalf of former President Robert Kocharian and other individuals.
Legal costs have typically made up half of hefty financial compensations demanded by plaintiffs in such cases.
Kocharian and his family, for example, are seeking a total of 12 million drams ($32,000) in damages from two pro-opposition newspapers. Their lawyers will receive half of this money if they win the lawsuits.
According to Ara Zohrabian, deputy chairman of the Armenian Chamber of Advocates, experts from the association have looked into the matter and found these fees “unreasonable.” He said they arrived at the conclusion that legal teams must get no more than 500,000 drams for a single libel case.
“This amount must not be exceeded,” Zohrabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “If it is exceeded, then the Chamber of Advocates will consider that an unreasonable expenditure.”
The chamber’s governing Council was due to meet later in the day to decide whether to send a relevant non-binding recommendation to Armenian courts.
Zohrabian expressed hope that judges dealing with defamation claims would take the recommendation into account. He said they presently have trouble determining just how justified legal costs cited by plaintiffs are.
The number of libel suits filed against media outlets critical of the government has increased significantly since the passage of controversial amendments to Armenian defamation legislation in April 2010. Armenian press freedom groups recorded 12 such cases in the first quarter of this year.
In Zohrabian’s words, the Chamber of Advocates is worried about this trend. “We should promote freedom of speech, instead of trying to intimidate journalists,” he said. “We believe that some curbs [on legal action] must be applied for this purpose.”