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On June 29, 2007, the Armenian Bar and ABA Rule of Law Initiative celebrated the grand opening of the Public Defender’s Office (PDO) of the Armenian Bar – the product of a year-long effort by the two organizations. Representatives from various local and international organizations, including the Ministry of Justice, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Armenian judiciary, the prosecutor’s office, and the media joined the public defenders for the celebration.
The idea for creating public defender’s office originated in 2001, when the Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (CEELI), a division of the Rule of Law Initiative, sent eight Armenian advocates to study the public defender system in Florida. Upon their return, the advocates drafted a proposed law to create the PDO and, together with CEELI, promoted it to the Ministry of Justice. Beginning in 2003, CEELI experts worked closely with the Ministry of Justice to incorporate provisions creating a public defender’s office into the Armenian Law on Advocacy. The Armenian government adopted the new law in 2004, funding the first public defender’s office in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Currently, the PDO has 17 offices and 31 public defenders throughout Armenia. The PDO provides free legal aid in all criminal and some civil cases for disadvantaged citizens. In addition, the Rule of Law Initiative provides intensive trainings on various criminal law topics, legal writing, English language and computer classes to all public defenders.