The Armenian authorities have postponed the introduction of controversial legislation allowing judges to fine lawyers for contempt of court, it emerged on Wednesday
Government-drafted amendments to Armenia’s Judicial Code passed by the parliament in the first reading in November set the maximum amount of such fines at 100,000 drams ($210). They triggered vehement objections from lawyers across the country who fear that judges would use the new power to limit their rights during court hearings.
Attorneys representing radical opposition activists currently standing trial feel that they are the main target of the proposed penalties. They frequently argue with judges and are sanctioned by the latter during those trials
Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian, the key author of the amendments, said on Wednesday that the controversial clause has been removed from the Judicial Code which has yet to be debated and passed in the final reading. But he made clear that it will be incorporated into another code which the authorities plan to amend later this year.
One of the outspoken lawyers, Ara Papikian, dismissed the announcement, saying that the authorities are simply giving him and his colleagues more time. He said they will not introduce the fines at least until May.
Another lawyer, Ara Gharagyozian, dismissed government arguments that judges in other countries have long been allowed to impose fines on lawyers. “If our courts were independent I would strongly support this law,” he said. “But since judges in Armenia are not independent and pressurize lawyers in political cases such a measure must not be introduced here.”
The head of Armenia’s Chamber of Advocates, Ara Zohrabian, reacted more cautiously to Harutiunian’s announcement, saying that it does not represent a “final solution” to the matter. He called on members of the national bar association to hold further discussions.
The justice minister has defended the fines sought by the authorities, saying that they are needed to increase public respect for the Armenian judiciary.