The Court of Cassation condemned on Tuesday hundreds of Armenian lawyers for going on a one-day strike to protest against what they say are arbitrary decisions routinely made by the country’s highest body of criminal and civil justice.
The unprecedented action involving about 600 attorneys took place on Monday, forcing the postponement of court hearings across the country. It was effectively backed by Ruben Sahakian, chairman of the Armenian Chamber of Advocates, the national bar association.
The lawyers specifically protested against the high court’s refusal to even consider the vast majority of appeals lodged by defense attorneys and litigants in civil cases. They say that such decisions are usually announced without any explanation.
Hayk Alumian, one of the organizers of the protest, accused the tribunal of waging a “cold war” against lawyers. “Even after winning cases at the Constitutional Court we are unable to ensure the restoration of our clients’ rights by the Court of Cassation,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Lusine Sahakian, another well-known lawyer, said the court’s stance contributes to a lack of judicial independence and violations of the due process of law by law-enforcement bodies. In what she portrayed as further proof of injustice, Sahakian said that more than 97 percent of verdicts handed down by Armenian courts of first instance last year were not struck down by higher courts.
A senior aide to Arman Mkrtumian, chairman of the Court of Cassation, condemned the strike and dismissed the lawyers’ demands as “ridiculous.” Sergei Marabian said the court will not even discuss them with the protesters.
“A lawyer is an entrepreneur,” Marabian told journalists. “A lawyer cannot go on strike against a court. Strikes are directed against employers, rather than state bodies with which you are in a totally different relationship.”
“When they try to evaluate the court beyond the law that’s politics as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “They are simply slinging mud at the authorities without any facts.”
Marabian claimed at the same time that the protesting lawyers are motivated by their material self-interest. He argued that a larger number of cases heard by the Court of Cassation would mean more revenue for the lawyers.
The court already faced last year embarrassing street protests by lawyers after Mkrtumian engineered the controversial sacking of a Yerevan judge who granted bail to a criminal suspect contrary to prosecutors’ wishes.
The judge, Samvel Mnatsakanian, was dismissed by President Serzh Sarkisian in July 2011 upon the recommendation of the Justice Council, a state body overseeing Armenian courts. The council is headed by Mkrtumian.
Mnatsakanian claimed after his sacking that many Armenian judges are primarily concerned with not upsetting high-level state authorities and the Court of Cassation in particular, rather than enforcing laws.