Experts in the field of reforming the system of alternative sanctions and measures believe that change in the system depends on the radical changes in the legal framework regulating criminal justice system, in particular with establishing a probation service in Armenia.
On 14 October 2015 “Civil Society Institute” NGO organized a round table on “Use of non-custodial sanctions and measures in Armenia: existing challenges and ways forward”. The event was organized in the frames of the project implemented jointly with Penal Reform International with the support of the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF).
Speaking about the practice of the use of alternative measures CSI Director Arman Danielyan stated that the statistics on the use of pre-trial detention is rather upsetting. Remand is one of the most widely used measure of restraint in Armenia whereas it shall be used only as exceptional measure where it is not possible to use non-custodial measures.
“According to the statistics provided by the Judicial Department, in 2014 94,5% of motions on the use of remand were granted by courts. At the same time 81% of motions to replace remand with bail were rejected by courts. To compare, the number of dismissed motions to be released on bail is higher than in 2013. As a result, we have overcrowding among remand prisoners. For instance, in “Nubarashen” penitentiary almost twice more inmates are kept in cells than they are supposed to accommodate”,- stated Arman Danielyan. He believes that the vast majority of motions on the use of pre-trial detention are not grounded. They only contain general statements that an accused may abscond or hinder the investigation but the courts grant these motions. Mr. Danielyan has concerns about the use of non-custodial sanctions as well. “In our opinion, there are insufficient number and types of alternative sanctions. Hopefully establishment of the long-awaited Probation Service will help in solving the existing problems,” – noted CSI Director.
The Judge of the Court of the General Jurisdiction of Kentron-Nork-Marash Administrative Districts Mnatsakan Martirosyan does not share the opinion that pre-trial detention is used in a widespread manner in Armenia. Though he could not provide actual statistics on the use, however he pointed out that there were instances when motion on using pre-trial detention were dismissed or when detention was replaced by release on bail. In his opinion, low number of dismissed motions on use of pre-trial detention demonstrates that most of them are well-grounded”.
Judge Martirosyan believes that statistical data shall be analyzed in a different manner to have a clear picture. “Investigating authority uses non-custodial measures on its own, without coming to a court, for instance, personal guarantee, commitment not to leave the place of residence. However, when there are sufficient grounds to believe that the person in question may abscond, hinder investigation, commit a new crime, only then they apply to the court seeking authorization for pre-trial detention. Therefore we should consider what is the ratio of measures of restraint applied versus number of crimes committed, how many of them were non-custodial and custodial, as well as what is the share of granted motions on pre-trial detention”, – stressed the Judge.
Judge Martirosyan noted that the list of measures of restraint in the Criminal Procedure Code shall be expanded. There is a need to introduce house arrest, administrative supervision. He also pointed out that the hearing on motions to grant pre-trial detention shall become public and at the same time allow to keep confidentiality of the investigation. “In case of crimes involving material damage such as, for instance, robbery, customs fraud, where there is also an issue of compensation of the damage caused to a victim or the state, alternative measures will be more efficient as in such a case the probability for reparation is higher unlike being in pre-trial detention”,– the judge noted.
According to the Deputy Minister of Justice Suren Krmoyan, the legislation on criminal justice will undergo radical change. The ideology of this system will be changed. ”Imprisonment will be considered as the last resort sanction. In all cases where the court will rule that the offender may serve the punishment not in prison, alternative sanction will be applied”, stated the Deputy Minister.
He emphasized that the legislation in the field of criminal justice has been subjected to radical revision with the support of the international experts. A number of important pieces of legislation are being revised at the same time, in particular, Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, Penitentiary Code and the Law on Probation.
A draft Law on Probation Service will be presented and discussed with the relevant stakeholders in the nearest future. Following that, the Draft will be disseminated more broadly. Prior to adoption of the Law, in Yerevan and Vanadzor two pilot probation offices on the basis of the subdivisions of the Alternative Sanctions Enforcement Unit of the Penitentiary Department under the Ministry of Justice has been operated since June 2015. This will allow to take into account challenges faced in practice. and address them in the law.
Mr. Krmoyan also informed that in the nearest future 50 bracelets will be imported to Armenia to do electronic monitoring by the Probation Service over offenders serving non-custodial sanctions.