Armenia’s Ministry of Justice has drafted a package of constitutional laws under which it proposes the establishment of a specialized anti-corruption court consisting of at least 25 judges, five of whom will hear only cases related to the recently adopted law on the confiscation of property of illegal origin.
It is also proposed that a specialized anti-corruption court of appeal be established, involving at least 10 judges, and changes be made in the Court of Cassation where the Criminal Chamber will function with eight judges, and the Civil-Administrative Chamber with 13.
Deputy Minister of Justice Srbuhi Galian said the measures we enable Armenia to have a specialized court of a higher quality. “As the first link in this chain we are setting up an anti-corruption committee with investigators who will undergo an appropriate vetting process and who will also pass professional retraining. Also, there will be a subdivision in the prosecutor’s office and members of this subdivision will also be vetted to specialize in that field. We can say that this chain will be closed with the establishment of the court with specialized staff,” she said.
Human rights activist Artur Sakunts supports the idea, but he has concerns in terms of the implementation of the reform. In particular, he has questions about how the public will trust the judges of the specialized court if the whole judicial system has not been vetted.
“It is very important to assess the possible risks of conflict of interest in the criteria for the selection of judges in order to avoid them, because there should be people who have no connection with the criminal world or representatives of the criminal world, their relatives should not be involved in any kind of corruption phenomena, let alone crimes. These are risks that must be taken into account in the selection of judges,” Sakunts said.
The selection of judges will be carried out through an open competition, which will be open not only to incumbent judges, but also to non-judges. Representatives of the three branches of power, a representative of the Ombudsman will be members of the tender council, seats will also be provided for the public sector. Candidates for judges will undergo a vetting process for their integrity that will be administered by the anti-corruption committee. A higher salary for judges of this specialized court is foreseen as compared to other judges. There will be certain limitations in regards to who can become a candidate for an anti-corruption court judge.
“We have tried to restrict as much as possible access to this court to those who have recently had disciplinary violations and will be held accountable on their bases. A judge will not have the opportunity to become a judge of the anti-corruption court if the Human Rights Court has recognized a violation by this judge in his or her judicial act,” Galian said.
About four months ago, simultaneously with the amendments to the Judicial Code, the appendix to the Criminal Code defined the list of corruption-related crimes cases on which should be tried by a specialized court. It is envisaged that this anti-corruption court will start functioning in the second half of 2021. It is not clear yet how the transition stage will be organized. “There will be some cases that will be transferred [to the anti-corruption court], others will not,” the deputy minister said.