The head of Armenia’s national bar association joined on Friday some of its members in criticizing a government bill that would allow judges to fine lawyers for contempt of court.
The bill passed by the Armenian parliament in the first reading sets the maximum amount of such fines at 100,000 drams ($210). Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian defended the proposed measure on November 30, saying that it is needed to increase public respect for the Armenian judiciary.
“It would mean that if a lawyer objects to an unlawful action by a judge they could be fined by the judge,” said Ara Zohrabian, the chairman of the Chamber of Advocates. “And lawyers could face millions [of drams] in fines.”
Zohrabian said this could only “inhibit” attorneys representing criminal suspects or litigants in civil cases. The Judicial Code does not protect them against “unscrupulous judges,” he told a news conference.
Zohrabian did not deny a connection between the bill and ongoing tense trials of radical opposition members arrested last year. They have been frequently disrupted by bitter wrangling between the presiding judges and the defendants and their lawyers. The latter have been routinely barred from hearings for contempt of court.
Some of those lawyers went on a brief strike on Thursday to protest against the fines sought by the government.
“It’s obvious that this is connected with the continuing trials,” one of the lawyers, Nina Karapetiants, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).“There is no other explanation.”
Karapetian said the Chamber of Advocates should protest more vigorously and even threaten to organize a general strike of lawyers if the authorities refuse to give up the punitive measure.