With few professional resources available to defense lawyers, the criminal justice system in Armenia remains imbalanced. ABA ROLI’s criminal law reform program in Armenia seeks to support the professional development of advocates and to provide institution building guidance to the country’s first Public Defender Office. Another priority is to increase knowledge and to encourage compliance with international human rights norms, with a special focus on pre-trial detention issues, confrontation, pre-trial motion practice, inadmissibility of evidence and other related issues.
In the Republic of Armenia, there has historically been no effective system for free legal defense. Typically, defense lawyers in criminal cases for the indigent have been appointed by investigators or prosecutors, with whom they have a close relationship, negating the possibility of an adequate defense. Armenia established a national Public Defender Agency (PDA) on January 1, 2006, to provide legal aid for all criminal cases and some civil cases (e.g., personal injury and alimony). The PDA, which is a subunit of the Chamber of Advocates, employs 33 public defenders throughout the country. The PDA has recently passed its operational charter and manual. ABA ROLI’s participation was key to the creation of this organization, and the criminal law program continues to provide capacity building and organizational development. In 2007–2008, ABA ROLI’s criminal law program provided the PDA’s Yerevan office and regional offices with equipment and furniture. It supported the creation of internal management policies and systems, and contributed to the development of oversight and discipline mechanisms within the PDO. It also provided continuing legal education and trainings for public defenders on new legislation (both substantive and procedural), motion practice, trial skills and appellate practice.
The criminal law program encourages monthly roundtables to allow public defenders to discuss current cases of interest, to engage with local and international experts and to consult with peers. It also provides trainings on the use of office equipment and research databases.
In addition, the criminal law program increases public awareness by creating and disseminating information regarding the PDA and human rights issues through brochures, pamphlets and public service announcements (PSAs).
In 2007–2008, ABA ROLI in Armenia released a PSA on the Public Defenders’ Office and published brochures on bail, on the rights of arrestees, on the PDO and on fair trials.
The criminal law program has been providing professional training to defense lawyers and criminal defense lawyers, which tend to be underserved with regard to professional services and support. The training addresses trial advocacy skills and substantive issues such as the European Court on Human Rights’ (ECHR) laws. In 2008, for instance, ABA ROLI provided trainings on case strategy within the ECHR.
In 2009, ABA ROLI developed its first pre-trial detention and sentencing assessment tool, the Detention Procedures Assessment Tool (DPAT), which was launched in Armenia in February 2010. The tool provides a comprehensive look at pre-trial detention practices relative to international standards and practices. The assessment will be the foundation for a push for detention and sentencing reform.
ABA ROLI seeks to enhance the independence, competence, professionalism and accountability of judges in Armenia and to develop and promote resources necessary for the fair and transparent administration of justice. The November 2005 constitutional referendum instituted sweeping changes that were intended to increase human rights protections, to create a more independent judiciary and to improve the balance of power among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. ABA ROLI works to provide the judiciary with the skills, resources and information it needs to carry out their duties successfully in this new environment.
The judicial reform program provides technical assistance and expertise to the Judicial Department, the Judicial School and the Court of Cassation in the effective implementation of their new functions and duties under the Judicial Code, including the application of case precedence, which is a new concept in the Armenian legal system. To ensure equal access of all judges, advocates, prosecutors and others interested in the decisions passed by the Court of Cassation, ABA ROLI is working with the Judicial Department to publish the judicial acts passed from 2006–2008 by the Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation. This will promote the effective application of the code and acts, of the new duty of the Court of Cassation in providing uniform law enforcement.
In addition, ABA ROLI provides ongoing technical and expert support to the Judicial School, which organizes seminars and conferences. Specifically, ABA ROLI supported the Judicial School in conducting trainings for newly appointed, as well as working judges, on the application of the case law, rules of judicial conduct and amendments made in the laws regarding meetings, demonstrations and rallies. ABA ROLI also worked closely with the Judicial Department to enhance public awareness by publishing a manual on the Judicial Code of the Republic of Armenia, which will be disseminated to students.
ABA ROLI works with the judiciary to increase its efficiency and improve its transparency. For example, ABA ROLI partnered with the Court of Cassation to develop a new system for indexing court decisions. ABA ROLI provided expert assistance as well as relevant materials to support the establishment and effective operation of this system.
In December 2005, Armenia adopted a new Code of Judicial Conduct. The Code, which is based on the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, is the culmination of nearly two years of work by the Association of Judges of the Republic of Armenia (AJRA) and ABA ROLI. A working group established in 2006 by AJRA drafted Commentaries to the Code of Judicial Conduct, which was published with the support of ABA ROLI.
ABA ROLI’s legal education reform program in Armenia focuses on establishing and improving university-based legal clinics, while reforming Armenia’s legal curriculum to strengthen the practical lawyering skills of young legal professionals. The legal education reform program also develops public education materials to raise public awareness on issues such as gender equality and children’s rights.
ABA ROLI’s USAID-funded legal education reform program supports significant improvements in Armenia’s legal education system, one of which is clinical legal education, which ABA ROLI has supported since 2005. Through ABA ROLI’s support of three legal clinics – located at Gavar State University (“the Gavar Clinic”), Gyumri Progress University (“the Gyumri Clinic”), and Yerevan State University (“the Legal Clinical Association” or LCA) – ABA ROLI works to institutionalize practical skills development which prepares law students to provide access to justice to their clients. At Gavar State University and the Gyumri Progress University, clinical work has been incorporated into the schools’ curricula and now counts for academic credit, exemplifying the value these universities now find in providing clinical legal education opportunities to their students.
In 2007, ABA ROLI conducted the first-ever legal education reform assessment in Armenia. In July 2008, ABA ROLI published and released the Legal Education Reform Index (LERI) findings in full. LERI employs a rigorous analysis of all relevant laws that regulate higher education institutions and legal education programs in a country (de jure analysis). It is also an effective tool in galvanizing partner support and determining program prioritization and design for all donor organizations working in legal education reform.
In 2007, ABA ROLI organized and hosted a study trip for Yerevan State University (YSU), the leading public law school in Armenia. The law school dean and deputy dean visited leading law schools in New York City and Washington, D.C. The study tour focused on the administrative structures of these law schools, including admissions offices, registrar’s offices, libraries and career centers. In 2008, as a result of this project, YSU established a career center, created a student’s handbook and developed preliminary plans to establish a centralized registrar’s office.
In addition to systematic institutional reform, ABA ROLI initiated a core curriculum reform program in 2007. The program focuses on the development and introduction of new courses in law schools.
ABA ROLI began its core law school curriculum reform program by pairing YSU law professors with American law professors to develop two interactive, skills-based courses:
In January 2008, the first-ever legal writing textbook in Armenia was developed and published with the support of ABA ROLI.
In 2007, ABA ROLI premiered four “Alphabet of Law” public service announcements (PSAs), which present basic concepts on elections and election law to children via television cartoons. The PSAs are widely shown on television stations throughout Armenia and are used by ABA ROLI’s street law partners in their lessons throughout Armenian schools. The 12 Alphabet of Law spots are accompanied by an updated activity manual for teachers and trainers.
ABA ROLI’s legal profession reform program focuses on creating an independent and sustainable association of lawyers, developing public advocacy initiatives, and enhancing the professional development of lawyers and the resources available to them.
In 2006, ABA ROLI worked with the national Chamber of Advocates to create and implement the first advocate qualification exam in more than five years, a huge step in ensuring the professional capacity of legal practitioners. Domestic and international monitors observed both the written and oral portions of the exam. Consequently, 160 new licenses for advocates were granted.
In August 2008, ABA ROLI participated in the third national advocate qualification exam in Armenia. After successfully conducting the two previous exams, the Chamber of Advocates assumed responsibility for administration of the exam, with support from ABA ROLI’s office in Yerevan. Of the 158 people who sat for the exams, which were monitored by domestic and international observers, 80 passed. The swearing-in ceremony for new attorneys was held in October 2008.
ABA ROLI continues to work with the chamber to develop their capacity to provide member services to attorneys, with a special focus on ethics and continuing legal education. Most recently, the legal profession reform program has worked to provide specialized trainings for those advocates who recently passed the bar. The aim is to develop the skills necessary to work within a new, precedent-centric legal system. ABA ROLI has also, in response to several requests from advocates, begun conducting weekly legal English classes. These classes are open to any advocate or attorney interested in attending and have included topics such as hearsay and the U.S. Constitution.
ABA ROLI is developing a television program which will focus on Armenian advocates and their involvement in human rights cases. By illustrating the methods and approaches employed in these cases and by addressing the challenges advocates face, the program will serve to promote the status of advocates in Armenia. It also aims to increase the number of human rights cases brought before the court nationally and internationally by enhancing the public’s awareness of their human rights.
ABA ROLI in Armenia is currently working with the Chamber of Advocates to create a comprehensive legal database that will provide access to relevant legal documents, precedents, cases and acts. Public defenders offices will be the primary beneficiaries, as they will be able to remotely connect to the chamber’s online database to conduct research and to obtain information relevant to their clients and cases. Also, the web site will offer basic forms and templates to allow easy access for citizens with simple cases that do not require an advocate.
Armenia’s Parliamentary elections, held on May 12, were the first in the history of independent Armenia that international observers recognized as free and compliant with most international standards. Prior to and during the elections, the ABA worked with national and international organizations to raise citizen's awareness of their electoral rights and to promote adherence to the rule of law during the elections to ensure a fair, transparent electoral process. Activities included the creation of an NGO Advocacy Network, provision of legal aid and legal advice to citizens throughout the election period, and trainings for judges and lawyers on the Armenian electoral code. A national toll-free hotline number was made available to all Armenia citizens in need of legal assistance on election-related issues and problems. A colorful and far-reaching promotional campaign - featuring yellow and green hats, posters, flyers and stickers - was implemented to raise awareness about the availability of the Rule of Law Initaitive's free legal services.
Fifteen "ambulances," each manned by three civic activists and one lawyer, were in action on election day. Coordinated by lawyers at the hotline headquarters, the ambulances operated in Yerevan and other regions and were sent to follow up on calls from citizens who needed on-the-spot legal assistance. The hotline received 129 calls in the pre-election period and 113 calls on the day of the election. Lawyers at the hotline providing legal consultations and assistance to callers, many of whom requested clarification on voting procedures, aid in restoring their voter rights, and assistance in filing complaints.
In order to enhance public awareness of the importance of voting in the upcoming parliamentary election in May 2007 and Armenia's presidential election in 2008, the Rule of Law Initiative is set to air four new televised public service announcements that focus on voting issues. The spots, the latest in the Rule of Law Initiative's popular Alphabet of Law animated public education series aimed at children, are sponsored by the United Nations Development Project (UNDP).