YEREVAN — The Armenian parliament approved a government proposal to hire new judges who will deal only with corruption cases or pre-trial arrests of criminal suspects.
The bill drafted by the Ministry of Justice calls for the selection of up to 21 such judges for Armenian courts of first instance. Three other new judges specializing in arrests or corruption-related offenses would be appointed to the Court of Appeals.
Government officials have said that the new judges would reduce the workload of courts increasingly overwhelmed by pending criminal and civil cases. According to Justice Minister Rustam Badasyan, they should also hand down more objective rulings on arrest warrants demanded by investigators.
As for the concerns expressed by the opposition that the authorities are thus choosing convenient judges for themselves, the minister noted that in order to understand the problem, it is necessary to look at the procedure set for selecting new judges.
He said the candidates will pass a written exam, after which they will pass a due diligence check, receive an opinion from the Supreme Judicial Council and the Anti-Corruption Commission, then undergo training at the Academy of Justice, pass exams again and then only be able to assume their positions
“We can say that persons associated with the corruption circles of the previous authorities may lose their influence in the judicial system,” Badasyan said.
The National Assembly passed the government bill in the first reading by 83 votes to 17 with one abstention. Both opposition parties represented in the parliament rejected the bill, saying that the authorities should address instead the far more pressing security challenges facing Armenia and Karabakh.
Lilit Makunts, the parliamentary leader of ruling My Step bloc, rejected the criticism. “I want to remind that the government takes on a weekly basis new measures to overcome consequences of the war,” she said. “We do not contribute to a better [security] environment by delivering fiery speeches here and trying to spread alarm among our citizens.”
In recent months Armenian judges have refused to allow law-enforcement bodies to arrest dozens of opposition leaders and members as well as other anti-government activists. Virtually all of those individuals are prosecuted in connection with angry protests sparked by the Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s handling of the autumn war in Nagorno-Karabakh.