“Ungrounded, amateur, PR”: Judiciary officials hit back at ombudsman’s special report on court corruption

“Ungrounded, amateur, PR”: Judiciary officials hit back at ombudsman’s special report on court corruption

Photolure

The ombudsman’s special report on the situation in Armenia’s judiciary has elicited angry reactions from officials of the sphere.


Justice Minister Hrair Tovmasyan, while acknowledging that there are numerous flaws in the judicial system, still says that the ombudsman should not be saying things that do not have legal consequences.

“I want what the ombudsman says not to be based on everyday conversations, but be grounded,” stressed Tovmasyan.

At the same time, the minister hopes that the implementation of the judicial reform in the near future “will take us out of this situation and we will be in a new dimension”. “The situation of courts hampers the development of all sectors of society, and if we fail to achieve substantial changes in the next one or two years, then one should not expect changes in other spheres,” he said.

In the report published on Monday the ombudsman made a series of high-profile revelations, concluding, for instance, that the Court of Cassation and the Council of Justice apply double standards in their decisions sometimes themselves violating the requirements of the law. The report also claims that there is a “judicial bribe pricelist” and a typical bribe is determined on the basis of 10 percent of the lawsuit’s value. It goes on to say that the rates of bribes fluctuate within the following range – at the first-instance court – from $500 to $10,000; at the court of appeal –from $200 to $15,000; at the Court of Cassation – $10,000 to $50,000.”

“Our numerous surveys indicate that a criminal, but very functional system of pressurizing and subjugating judges has been formed at the Court of Cassation. A so-called institution of “zonal judges” of the Court of Cassation has been formed. According to this system, individual judges of the Court of Cassation have judges under their control and these [lower court] judges are supposed to coordinate with them relevant court cases,” said the authors of the report, who had relied on data received from 120 anonymous interviews with professionals, including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, legal experts.

The Judicial Department had a tougher reaction to the ombudsman’s report. This department is in charge of ensuring effective judiciary process and acts according to a charter approved by the chairman of the Court of Cassation.

Head of the Service for International Cooperation and Public Relations of the Judicial Department Arsen Babayan dismissed the criticism as a “public relations stunt”, noting the amateur nature of the report. At a meeting with journalists on Tuesday the official said that if the ombudsman had evidence of bribery involving judges, he must have reported it to the Judicial Department for inquiry.

“The ombudsman shows that the source from which he received the information was involved in corruption and crime,” said Babayan, adding that one needs to combat corruption, while “smearing the judicial power is not effective.”

The Judicial Department official believes that the Ombudsman’s Office is advocating a ‘biased attitude’ towards the courts and reduces people’s confidence in them.

Meanwhile, lawyers and human rights activists involved in a number of high-profile cases highly evaluate the ombudsman’s report and say that it is entirely trustworthy and reflects the reality. In the last two years lawyers have twice gone on strikes protesting against the arbitrary manner of action of the Court of Cassation.

Leading human rights activist Artur Sakunts even considers the ombudsman’s report to be “the greatest gift” on Human Rights Day.

“I first of all congratulate Ombudsman Karen Andreasyan, all of us, because what we have repeatedly raised concerns about has received a legal status with the ombudsman’s report,” Sakunts said.