Corruption within Armenia’s judicial system remains widespread, with judges often accepting bribes to hand down rulings, according to the country’s human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian.
In a special report released on Monday, Andreasian’s office also accused Armenian courts of routinely making unfair and arbitrary decisions. It singled out the Court of Cassation, the highest body of criminal and civil justice, for criticism, saying that its judges adhere to “double standards” and breach Armenian laws.
The Court of Cassation and its chairman Arman Mkrtumian in particular have for years been the main source of complaints from Armenian trial attorneys. Hundreds of them went on a two-day strike in June for a second time in just over a year to protest against the court’s refusal to consider the vast majority of appeals lodged by them. Both the high court and the Judicial Department, a government agency monitoring courts, dismissed the protests.
Mkrtumian has also been accused by lawyers of severely limiting the independence of lower courts. In particular, he came under fire in 2011 after engineering the controversial sacking of a Yerevan judge who granted bail to a criminal suspect contrary to prosecutors’ wishes.
The ombudsman’s report is based on confidential interviews which Andreasian’s aides say were conducted with judges, prosecutors and lawyers. It claims that civil cases in the country are often decided by bribes paid to judges handling them.
“According to the interviews, the amount of a bribe is typically equivalent to 10 percent of compensatory damages [sought in a particular case,]” Andreasian’s deputy, Genia Petrosian, told a news conference.
“Most of the interviewees claimed that the bribes range from $500-$10,000 in courts of first instance, $200-$15,000 in the Court of Appeals and $10,000-$50,000 in the Court of Cassation,” she said.
Arsen Babayan, a spokesman for the Judicial Department, brushed aside the ombudsman’s report, saying that it does not contain any proof of the alleged bribery. “Why don’t they lodge any reports with law-enforcement bodies?” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Civic activists found the ombudsman’s claims credible, however. Larisa Alaverdian, one of Andreasian’s predecessors, said on Tuesday that she personally dealt with citizens who claimed to have bribed judges. “Often times I heard complaints from people who had to sell their homes and other assets to win court cases,” she said. “The bribes were paid to judges.”
Varuzhan Hoktanian, head of the Armenian branch of Transparency International, pointed to the Berlin-based watchdog’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, an annual survey that gauges popular perceptions of graft around the world. The survey released in July concluded that the judiciary is seen by Armenians as one of the country’s most corrupt institutions.
“More than 60 percent of people think that the judiciary is corrupt. We had the same picture in 2010,” Hoktanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Over the past two decades, the Armenian judiciary has undergone numerous structural changes that were supposed to make it independent of the executive branch. Local still rarely rule against the government or law-enforcement bodies.