Judges Swear in as New Judicial System Introduced

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–More than one hundred new judges were sworn in on Tuesday during an official ceremony–marking the launch of a new judicial system in Armenia–in accordance with its post-Soviet constitution introduced in 1995.

"The judicial system envisaged by the constitution of the Republic of Armenia has been formed," said Justice Minister David Harutiunian after the judges–assigned to all of the country’s lower-level courts–vowed to enforce the law and be "fair" and "humane."

The 123 judges–29 of them women–were appointed last week by President Robert Kocharian and will sit on the Armenian courts of first and second instance. They were selected from a pool of over four hundred candidates who passed exams late last year at the ministry of justice. The verdicts of those courts can be overruled by the Court of Appeals–the highest judicial body in Armenia. Except for half the members of the Constitutional Court–all other judges are to be appointed by the president without parliament’s confirmation. Despite stating that the judges are "irreplaceable" until the age of 65–the constitution allows the president to "relieve the judge of their duties" in cases "specified by the law." More than eight years after the end of Communist rule–the Armenian judiciary is not believed to have become independent. A number of apparently political trials of 1995-97 dealt a serious blow to the credibility of the courts.

"The existing beliefs in the society about the judiciary must change," President Kocharian said addressing the new judges. "For a very long time–the judicial system was an appendage to the totalitarian state machine. Time and consistency are needed to get rid of that legacy," he said.

Critics of the constitution say that among other things–the president’s role in appointing and dismissing judges should be limited. However–a presidential commission on constitutional reform has not considered amending any of the clauses of the constitution relating to the judiciary.

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