Hetq TV Program

Hetq TV program

Within the framework of Hetq TV program an interview was held with the Head of the Office of Public Defender Melanya Arustamyan and a public defender Mary Alaverdyan on the issue of the work overload of the Office of Public Defender.

Nowadays, the courts in the Republic of Armenia face a serious problem with the work overload. Many stakeholders think that the only solution can be providing the courts with more human resources. The same refers to the Office of Public Defender where the number of cases is higher than the public defenders can handle.

According to Melanya Arustamyan the Office of Public Defender carries out its activities with a huge work overload. The number of cases handled by public defenders increases year by year. In 2014 the number of criminal cases handled by public defenders was 3666, whereas in 2015 there were 4600 criminal cases. Ms. Arustamyan mentioned that despite the fact that public defenders work with huge work overload, they manage to carry out the defense in an appropriate manner. The only problem they face is that very often they have to postpone court hearings due to urgent cases where they are required to see the suspects who are involved in criminal cases. Thus, due to the work overload public defenders violate the reasonable terms, but manage to ensure the right to defense of the accused within the first 72 hours of detention. With regard to civil cases the number of cases, which are handled only by 4 public defenders, increased as well in 2015 compared with 2014 (1300 cases in 2014 and 2400-2600 in 2015).

Since January 1, 2016 the state has provided the Office of Public Defender with financial means for 5 more positions. Instead of hiring 5 full time public defenders these financial means have been used to hire more than 5 part time (with 25% or 50% work load) public defenders in regions. This enables at least avoiding the cases of force majeure in regions where there was only one public defender whereas 2 or 3 public defenders were required. However, despite the aforementioned new positions the Office of Public Defender needs more human resources.

Another problem that the PDO faces is the lack of mechanisms verifying the affordability of a person to hire a defense advocate before assigning a public defender. The PDO has a capacity to check the financial state of a person in civil cases but not in criminal cases due to tight deadlines. In case of civil cases the law enables the PDO to terminate the defense of a person if the latter turns out to be financially solvent, whereas such a regulation does not exist in criminal legislation. Thus, the PDO has come up with a suggestion to make an amendment in the criminal legislation as well, so that in case if it turns out that the defendant is financially solvent, the defense by the public defender will be terminated and that person will have to pay compensation.

Mary Alaverdyan mentioned another issue which is not less important and which also increases public defenders’ work overload. She says that there are many cases where the courts, based on the interests of justice, assign a public defender to persons who are not prescribed by law and who do not express their willingness to have a public defender. As a result, public defenders are present during the proceedings but in reality they do not carry out the defense but rather satisfy the demand. According to Ms. Alaverdyan the RA CPC provides a person with a right to a public defense but if that person does not express his willingness to exercise that right, he must not be obliged to have a public defense.

Therefore, the Head of the Office of Public Defender suggests making an amendment in the legislation by adding a clause describing the procedure where a person may reject his right to have a public defense. Thus, the state will carry out its obligation of ensuring the right to public defense and the public defender will not have to carry out the defense if the defendant does not wish so.

Within the framework of Hetq TV program an interview was held with a renowned attorney Hayk Alumyan and Anahit Harutyunyan, the expert of the Department for Relations with the European Court of Human Rights of the RA Ministry of Justice.

The theme of the interview was the recent amendment in the RA Law on Keeping Detainees and Arrestees which was approved by the decision of the RA National Assembly. The Human Rights Defender Karen Andreasyan had addressed the RA Ministry of Justice presenting the attorneys’ concern related to the fact that during weekends and holidays they are not allowed to see their clients. Later, the RA Ministry of Justice proceeded with this issue drafting and presenting the relevant bill to the RA National Assembly.

The main issue that was discussed during the program was the unjust practice carried out with respect to the arrestees and detainees. According to Hayk Alumyan the bad practice still continues regardless the amendments in the relevant law. In accordance with the existing law, when the attorney is assigned to a client, the investigator notifies the relevant penitentiary about the attorney, and the latter has a right to see his client whenever he wants. But in fact, this law is not fully applied as the attorneys are not allowed to see their clients during weekends or holidays. Moreover, there are cases when people are arrested during holidays and need to consult with an attorney, but unfortunately, are not allowed.

Hayk Alumyan also highlighted that the aforementioned problem does not derive from the law but rather from the penitentiaries applying that law, since there is no restriction in the law concerning the attorneys’ visits to their clients. Attorneys have a right to see their clients whenever they want and as often as they want.

In December 2015 the RA National Assembly approved the bill presented by the RA Ministry of Justice on the amendment of the RA Law on Keeping Detainees and Arrestees. As a result, now the law is more precise defining clearly that arrestees and detainees have a right to meet their attorneys without any restriction regardless weekends and holidays. With respect to the fact that this bad practice in the penitentiary still continues regardless the aforesaid amendment, Anahit Harutyunyan mentioned that the aforementioned amendment is the first phase of the reform. The second phase will be making amendments in the inner regulations of the penitentiaries so that they will comply with the main law, thus providing the arrestees or detainees with possibility to see their attorneys without any type of restrictions.

Hence, this issue is still being processed. Currently, a new bill is being discussed in the RA National Assembly relating to the amendments in the relevant decisions of the government according to which attorneys may see their clients only during working hours. Amendments will be made also in the internal legal acts of the penitentiaries so that the latter will terminate their unfair practice towards the arrestees or detainees.