About 200 lawyers went on a two-day strike on Monday to protest against what they say are arbitrary decisions routinely made by Armenia’s highest body of criminal and civil justice.
They specifically denounced the Court of Cassation’s refusal to consider the vast majority of appeals lodged by them in criminal or civil cases. They said such appeals are usually thrown out without any explanation.
“Double standards continue to be applied in the judicial system,” Liparit Simonian, one of the trial attorneys, said at a meeting of his protesting colleagues. “Decisions made by judicial bodies often contradict each other and appeals against them lodged with the Court of Cassation are thrown out without an explanation or with a standard explanation saying nothing.”
Seda Safarian, a prominent lawyer also taking part in the strike, said she stopped appealing to the high court for that reason last year. “When I get a letter from the Court of Cassation I feel very humiliated,” she said. “If you file a 50-page appeal you may get a reply which is less than one page long.”
The protest began exactly one year after a similar strike called by an even larger number of lawyers pressing the same demands. A senior aide to Arman Mkrtumian, the controversial chairman of the Court of Cassation, dismissed those demands as “ridiculous” at the time.
The protesting lawyers complained on Monday that the high court has not changed ways over the past year. Armenia’s Judicial Department, which monitors local courts, criticized their latest strike and defended the court, however.
“After exhausting all judicial possibilities and losing their cases, some of our lawyers simply decided to resort to an extreme form of protest,” Arsen Babayan, the spokesman for the department, told journalists. Babayan claimed that the European Court of Human Rights has defended the Mkrtumian-led court’s practices. He also noted that the number of striking lawyers is much smaller this time around.
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 judge, Samvel Mnatsakanian, was dismissed by President Serzh Sarkisian 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 the Court of Cassation, rather than enforcing laws.