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The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) seeks to increase access to justice in Armenia by promoting effective legal representation and by supporting the implementation of criminal justice reforms. ABA ROLI works to achieve this goal through a number of interventions, from supporting the pursuit of beneficial case precedent with strategic litigation to building the capacity of current and future lawyers to improve the quality of access to justice. Our legal clinics and internships find and nurture Armenia’s future human rights defenders while providing pro bono legal aid to the indigent. We support the defense bar through providing comprehensive substantive- and practical skills-based trainings on time-relevant issues. In 2015, we launched an Online Learning Platform to provide sustainable and accessible continuing legal education opportunities to advocates throughout Armenia. ABA ROLI also works to develop and advance practical skills-oriented curriculum in Armenia’s law schools and in the School of Advocates. In addition to strengthening the defense bar through training, we have also strengthened its role in the legal profession, providing a forum for them to discuss and resolve issues they face, including through legislative recommendations. Finally, we work to strengthen one of the Armenian defense bar’s most important institutions, the Public Defender’s Office, through supporting mentorship and case management programs aimed at increasing the quality of criminal defense throughout Armenia.
Armenian defense lawyers have traditionally had little opportunities for professional development. Since 2001, ABA ROLI has trained defense lawyers on numerous time-relevant topics, including trial skills, how to pursue detention alternatives, evidence, and Constitutional Court and Court of Cassation judgments. We have also trained hundreds of advocates, investigators, lawyers, prosecutors and public defenders on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to help maximize the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) impact on Armenia’s human rights record. Due in part to our efforts, citations of ECHR provisions and ECtHR case law have increased significantly in the past several year, improving the respect for human rights throughout the country.
Through ABA ROLI’s comprehensive Trial Advocacy Skills (TAS) courses we have been improving advocates’, law students’, and public defenders’ knowledge and skills throughout our program, resulting in improved criminal defense, a more uniform application of the current Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and Criminal Code (CC), and a defense bar which is better prepared for the draft CPC and CC’s forthcoming changes. In 2014, we began videotaping our trainings to transfer them to an online learning format, the Online Learning Platform, where they are now accessible to the defense community located throughout Armenia.
All of our trainings focus on enhancing the types of skills and knowledge required of all advocates and relevant to their daily legal practice. They are based on the current CPC while paying special attention to those provisions that are anticipated to be unique to the forthcoming revised CPC which will be of most importance to advocates, such as the introduction of opening statements during trial, direct and cross-examination, expert witness examination, and the utilization of negotiated dispositions.
In 2010, ABA ROLI implemented its Detention Procedure Assessment Tool in Armenia to evaluate the country’s pre-trial detention practices vis-à-vis international standards. Armed with the DPAT’s findings and in consultation with members of the defense bar, ABA ROLI worked with the legislative working group tasked with revising the CPC. As of 2015, over 70% of the DPAT’s recommendations are incorporated into the draft CPC. These changes, once adopted, will enhance arrestees’ and defendants’ rights as well as strengthen the role of defense lawyers in criminal proceedings.
Armenia historically lacked an effective system for free legal defense. Criminal defense lawyers for the indigent were appointed by investigators or prosecutors with whom they had close relationships, negating the possibility of a diligent defense. In 2006, Armenia established the PDO to provide legal aid for all criminal cases. Recent legislative amendments have expanded the PDO’s scope to cover some civil cases as well. A part of the Chamber of Advocates (Armenia’s bar association), the PDO employs public defenders in offices throughout the country. ABA ROLI has supported the PDO since its establishment, helping it to create internal and external management policies and systems. We helped the PDO institute minimum performance standards and disciplinary mechanisms for its public defenders, as well as avenues for the indigent to apply directly for free legal services.
In 2014, ABA ROLI began supporting a pilot mentorship program with the PDO, bringing in more experienced public defenders to three lower-functioning regional PDOs to oversee and improve the quality of case management. As part of the program, which is being expanded in 2015 and 2016, more experienced public defenders oversee and assist with less experienced public defenders’ cases. We are also supporting a pilot web-based case management system for the PDO. Once finalized in 2015, it will help public defenders to organize and manage their cases, and will enable mentor public defenders to virtually oversee and advise on public defenders’ cases.
ABA ROLI has supported strategic litigation cases throughout the years through its local NGO partner, the Helsinki Citizens Assembly of Vanadzor (HCAV). HCAV chooses its cases in consultation with ABA ROLI, considering what rights were violated, the strategic significance, and the potential impact from the litigation. These cases will have the potential to create beneficial ECtHR and domestic case precedents plus create potential for wide-ranging impact on defendants’ rights and liberties.
ABA ROLI also supports online TV shows to educate the public about trends in criminal law reform and about the reform efforts our program supports. Many people in Armenia still don’t know about the PDO, or don’t trust the PDO because it is a government-funded entity, for instance. Our media campaign works to inform the public about the PDO, highlights positive steps forward for human rights in Armenia as seen through our legal clinics’ work and the Strategic Litigation Fund, and discusses pressing issues of interest to advocates and the public alike.
ABA ROLI has been serving the great need for access to criminal justice in Armenia’s regions since 2011 through its two partner legal clinics in Gyumri and Vanadzor. These criminal law clinics in the regions identify and nurture law students’ passion for human rights, stemming the tide of students eager to move to Yerevan –depleting the regions of quality lawyers and decreasing their access to justice - and ultimately, in creating Armenia’s future human rights lawyers.
The clinics provide regional law students - who have few opportunities for practical skills development - with the advocacy skills they need in practice, such as problem solving, legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, factual investigation, client interviewing and counseling, communication skills, negotiation and litigation skills, organization and management of legal work, and the ability to recognize and resolve ethical dilemmas, while also providing free consultations to vulnerable groups and raising the level of legal consciousness of this population.
In addition to having one-on-one impact with criminal clinic clients, our legal clinics have also had more macro impacts on Armenia. In 2011, our clinic students saved over 70 households in four villages from having to pay a utility company amounts ranging from almost $200 to $1,000 for nine years’ worth of services that had barely been delivered due to damaged water pipes. As legal clinic student Malkhasyan Rima said, because of this case, “citizens could see the legal system working to uphold their rights—and, ultimately, we won the class-action lawsuit!” In February 2015, the Gyumri Legal Clinic won a Constitutional Court case, creating legal precedent in Armenia for criminal Pro Se legal representation (creating the ability of citizens to advocate on their own behalves in court, rather than requiring that an advocate be present in order to pursue justice).
This year, ABA ROLI will partner with the School of Advocates, (the one-year school all advocates must attend prior to taking the bar exam) to conduct a ‘Traveling Lawyers Program’. During the school year, School of Advocates candidates in the criminal law specialization track will venture out to the regions with supervising advocates to provide legal consultations to the poor and marginalized communities. The candidates will also staff a legal clinic in Yerevan and, from the issues presented in the Yerevan and regional cases, take on longer-term strategic litigation cases, selected based upon the cases’ novelty as well as their ability to create beneficial case precedent.
The United States has a culture supportive of unpaid interns who learn from altruistic mentors, but in Armenia, this is still a foreign concept. ABA ROLI started a criminal law intership program in 2010 in partnership with the PDO to improve the quality of legal representation in the regions through targeting and building the capacity of promising regional law students and providing them with practical experience that facilitate their employment in the regions. Since the start of the internship program, the public defender mentors in our criminal law internship program found ABA ROLI’s interns to be so talented and helpful that they requested extending the students’ internships– testament that the value of the U.S. unpaid intern model may well (eventually) take hold in Armenia. During the internships, the students learn how to deliver high quality access to justice to Armenians under the supervision of experienced advocates and PDs.
Another form of mentorship ABA ROLI has supported in Armenia has been through the Public Defender Mentorship program. By supporting regional PDs through mentorship and case management programs, ABA ROLI seeks to improve the quality of legal respresentation in the regions, where it is the lowest. In April 2015, ABA ROLI recruited and trained three experienced PDs to serve as Mentor Public Defenders (MPDs) in three regional PDOs in the Syunik, Lori, and Shirak regions. Mentors checked the PDs’ ongoing cases, gave guidance on case strategy, assisted them in preparing for court hearings, and helped them write effective motions. To measure the effectiveness of the PDO mentorship project, ABA ROLI interviewed PDs and MPDs and compared the last six months of the PDOs’ statistics with our baseline data when we began the project. ABA ROLI’s pre- and post-data showed a 160% increase in criminal cases ending in acquittal, a 33% decrease in the number of convictions, a 85% increase in convictions not ending with imprisonment (alternative measures applied instead), and a cumulative 383% increase in PDs’ appealing to the Appellate or Cassation Court, among other impressive findings. The mentor PDs’ support has been especially effective for increasing the quality and efficiency of the motions filed during trial and has solitified the need and value of a quality mentorship program.
ABA ROLI’s work to support criminal law reform in Armenia is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.