The government will launch soon a new program of judicial reforms designed to address a serious lack of public trust in Armenia’s courts, Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian announced on Wednesday.
Tovmasian said the five-year program has been drawn up by the Armenian Ministry of Justice in response to strong criticism of the judiciary voiced by President Serzh Sarkisian late last month.
Meeting with senior judges and other state officials, Sarkisian complained that the court reforms carried out until now have produced “unsatisfactory results.”
Citing the findings of various opinion polls, Tovmasian said that between 70 and 80 percent of Armenians do not trust the courts. He said the planned reforms are aimed at sharply reducing this “critical degree of distrust” and making the judicial branch “more effective.”
The minister gave few details of the relevant measures that will be taken by the government in 2012-2016. He said only that more effective mechanisms will be put in place for evaluating the work of various-level judges.
Neither Tovmasian nor Sarkisian spoke about a long-standing lack of judicial independence, a key reason for serious problems with the rule of law in Armenia. Despite having undergone numerous structural changes since the mid-1990s, Armenian courts still rarely hand down rulings opposed by the government and law-enforcement bodies.
A Yerevan district court judge controversially fired by Sarkisian claimed last summer that the Armenian judiciary cannot be considered a separate branch of government because many judges are primarily concerned with not upsetting high-level state authorities, rather than enforcing laws.
The judge, Samvel Mnatsakanian, was dismissed upon the recommendation of the Justice Council apparently because of granting bail to a criminal suspect contrary to prosecutors’ wishes. The sacking was condemned by Armenia’s national bar association.