“Unfortunately in the field of juvenile justice we do not see essential differentiated approach for adults and juveniles. While in the international practice it is recognized that if a juvenile commits an offense it shows that there is a reason, therefore first aim should be identification and addressing the reasons for committing the offense and not the punishment of the juvenile”, believes the President of the Civil Society Institute NGO Arman Danielyan. He believes that juvenile justice policy in Armenia is rather retributive than restorative.
On November 19 the presentation of the study “Juvenile Justice in Armenia: Legislative Analysis” was held by the Civil Society Institute NGO.
In the study it is stressed out that juvenile justice system of Armenia does not comply with the accepted international standards. There is no special legislative act on juvenile justice, specialized judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers; there is no general policy on crime prevention etc.
According to the expert from the Civil Society Institute NGO and author of the study Siranush Sahakyan, the first issue is that sentence types envisaged for juveniles are not adequate for solving juvenile justice issues.
“In general, one of the problems in the RA Criminal Code is the lack of alternative sentences. Sentences involving deprivation of liberty are widely applied also in relation to a juvenile”, says the expert.
The Article 85 of the RA Criminal Code envisages that a punishment or enforced disciplinary measures can be assigned in relation to a minor who committed a crime. The Article 86 defines the types of punishments assigned in relation with minors which are; fine, public work, arrest and imprisonment for a certain period.
According to Siranush Sahakyan's observations, fine is not an effective punishment for minors because their majority do not earn money, the parents are forced to pay the fine thus the principle of personal liability is violated. While applying the public work it is necessary to take into account that the RA Labour Code defines limitations for the work of minors.
According to the author, another issue is absence of the measures substituting the criminal liability.
According to the author, although by the legislation the body conducting the criminal proceedings has discretion to exempt from the criminal liability in case of non-grave or medium-gravity crimes (based on the repentance or reconciliation with the victim). However, there are no legal grounds for substitution of the criminal liability with alternative measures.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires the introduction of special measures which will allow implementing alternative approaches to juvenile offence without resorting to judicial procedures.
“It is necessary to keep away the juveniles from judicial procedures and groundless imprisonment. The alternative measures give the possibility to keep the juveniles away from the criminal procedures, from having criminal records. Deprivation of liberty shapes the criminal identity of a juvenile, creates social disruption and makes it complicated to reintegrate in future”, says the expert.
Siranush Sahakyan cites the Havana Rules which provides that imprisonment of juvenile should be used as a last resort for the minimum necessary period and should be limited to exceptional cases. While, according to the expert, this principle is not always applied in Armenia and the juveniles are often imprisoned without grounds.
Siranush Sahakyan also highlighted the issues of training of the professionals working with juveniles such as lawyers, investigators, judges, prosecutors. In her opinion, the law should provide the involvement of psychologist or social worker at the preliminary investigation and trial stages.
Currently the law provides the presence of pedagogue during the interrogation of a juvenile: “The practice shows that usually one of the school teachers is involved as pedagogue. This restrains the juvenile and creates difficulties to return to the school in future and for reintegration”, says the expert and suggests defining in the law who can participate in the interrogation as a pedagogue.
The issue of protection of juvenile victims and witnesses is also raised in the study. It is necessary to ensure in the law the protection procedures for juvenile victims and witnesses. In compliance with the international standards all investigation actions involving juvenile accused, victims and witnesses should be conducted with the assistance of professionals (psychologist, social worker) etc.
The study includes the suggestion to simplify the possibility of conducting expedited judicial proceedings in juvenile cases by the Criminal Procedure Code
RA Deputy Minister of Justice Ruben Melikyan who participated in the event, stressed out that the discussion and study presentation is timely as currently the new Criminal Procedure Code is undergoing the amendments.
Mr. Melikyan presented a number of important changes in relation of juveniles which are included in the draft, including shortened length of arrest and detention, participation of the psychologist in the criminal proceedings, expansion of the alternative measures of restraint etc.
“We have a task to have the Code corresponding to the modern European standards”, stressed out Melikyan and added that the conducted legislative analysis will be useful in achieving this goal.
The study was conducted by the Civil Society Institute NGO in the frames of “Promotion of Modern concepts in the administration of Juvenile Justice in Armenia” project in cooperation with Penal Reform International (PRI) and Children Support Centre Foundation (CSCF) under the Fund For Armenian Relief (FAR).