Mass prosecution of advocates had begun since July 17, 2016, the time they were involved in the defense of the criminal cases initiated in respect to the capture of the Patrol Service Regiment in Yerevan. Courts had been sanctioning advocates for “disrespectful treatment against the court”, and then the Chamber of Advocates subjected them to a widespread disciplinary liability. The vivid evidence of this was the fact that in 2017 the Board of the Chamber of Advocates initiated 86 disciplinary proceedings, of which 69 were only related to the case of the Sasna Tsrer. Any statistical data for 2018 are not available yet.
The entrance of the advocates to the courtroom was also hindered by court bailiffs; there were threats against the advocate Arayik Papikyan and his family members on the Facebook social networking site. The person/s who spread threats has not been disclosed so far.
The issue of the harassment against advocates involved in high-profile cases was once again raised during a round-table discussion entitled “Advocating Advocates’ Rights in Armenia”. It was within the frames of the program of advocates’ rights advocacy in Armenia implemented by the Helsinki Association in support with the European Endowment for Democracy (EED). The program touched upon the activities of more than 17 advocates, more than 55 criminal cases were monitored in which the prosecuted advocates are involved. Within the framework of the program, a number of disciplinary hearings of the CA Board were also been monitored and interviews on various topics related to their professional field were conducted with the prosecuted advocates and public defenders.
During the round-table discussion, Arayik Papikyan, who is also involved in the high-profile cases as a defense lawyer, noted that, regardless of the conditions under which the advocates were subjected to judicial sanctions, the Chamber arguments represented the following template formulation: “Having analysed the above-mentioned, the advocate clearly realised that his actions were not legitimate and allowed a violation of the ethics rules of the advocate’s conduct, consequently the following measure of liability should be applied against him.”
Meanwhile, advocates clearly stated that they had acted only for the benefit of their defendants, to ensure a fair trial for them, and to protect the high reputation of the advocates’ community as well. “It can be supposed from the letter of the Chamber that the advocates had realised that they violated, and they allowed the violation,” said Araiyk Papikyan. Most advocates disagree with the decisions of the Chamber of Advocates, and they appeal the decisions in the court. But here too, we have reached deadlock.
“Having examined the advocate’s complaint, the court should essentially acknowledge that another judge has made an incorrect decision against the advocate. Taking into account our judicial system and who the judges are, this can arouse suspicion,” added Arayik Papikyan, who himself has been subjected to more than two dozens of disciplinary sanctions. In his words, advocates should not be identified with their defendants.
During the round-table, opinions were expressed that the disciplinary proceedings subjected against the advocates should be dismissed as they had been initiated by the order of the former authorities.
The participating advocates expressed their opinion about the law that came into force on January 1, 2019, according to which the advocate may be fined up to 100,000 Armenian drams for a disrespectful attitude against the court. “One of the biggest arguments is that the judge himself offends, he makes a decision and he punishes. To perform his direct duties, the advocate may be fined,” said the advocate Nina Karapetyants, head of the “Helsinki Association” NGO.
The advocate Arayik Papikyan stressed that if the advocate is going to pay that money and is not going to appeal, it means he has been disrespectful. After that, the Chamber of Advocates should initiate disciplinary proseedings and if they find out that the advocate has violated the rule of conduct in the court he will once be warned. “That is, for my one violation, I will be punished twice. Meanwhile, it is a fundamental principle is not to be convicted twice for one and the same action”.
Still on February 4, 2019, the “Helsinki Association” human rights NGO applied to the NA Speaker and MPs, including former lawyers, who are now parliamentarians, to propose to eliminate the law or edit it so that it does not refer to them. No response has been received yet. According to Nina Karapetiants, the current powers can change that law as they have enough votes. “To make sure that steps are taken as a result of the revolution, that law should be abolished,” added advocate Hayarpi Sargsyan.
Proposals were put forward which will be summed up and presented during the next scheduled round-table meeting.