Anar Bagirov: "Judicial reform will improve lives of Azerbaijani citizens"
One of the most important events of this April in Azerbaijan was a decree of the President Ilham Aliyev on reforms in the judicial-legal system of the country. This decree says to improve material security and social security of judges, ensure transparency and uniformity of court proceedings, strengthen monitoring of activities of both judges, prosecutors and lawyers. This document also states about creation of special court to review business disputes and other issues related to business activities, and about increase in total number of judges in Azerbaijan by 200. Chairman of the Bar Association of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Anar Bagirov, discussed how implementation of this decree will change the court system in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.
- How material security of judges will improve quality of court proceedings?
- I believe that improved material support for judges will have benefit justice system in our country, since improvement of social protection of judges and court workers (it concerns not only wages, but also court infrastructure and use of modern technologies) contributes to quality of justice. Unfortunately, today's society has certain dissatisfaction with the state of judiciary system. Of course, all complaints are being considered, all shortcomings are dealt with. I believe that adoption of presidential decree on judicial and legal reform demonstrates the will of the head of state to eradicate negative things in the courts, including bureaucratic obstacles, thereby ensuring the work of judges is independent, objective, fair, incorruptible and transparent.
- What role will formation of unified judicial practice in the country play in ensuring that all courts are just and fair?
- It will play a very important role in the work of not only judges, but also work of lawyers, as well as other participants of judicial process. Unfortunately, very often there are cases when courts make different decisions on the same issues. We are also confronted with the fact that judges of the same court (or even the same judge) make opposite decisions in similar cases. Judicial-legal system shouldn't act this way, because this leads to the fact that lawyers' work becomes absolutely unpredictable, and it also confuses citizens and other parties. It's clear that there are difficult cases where it's really extremely difficult to predict court decision, but it's important that the same decisions are made in extremely similar cases. Legal work of judicial bodies must be predictable.
Predictable legal position is crucial. For example, today we can be guided by legal position specified in the decisions of the European Court for Human Rights, we know legal position from decisions of the Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan. Why can't Supreme Court form legal position on various cases, so that in the future a single court practice would guarantee stability of law enforcement? For citizens, this would be an effective method in terms of access to justice. With a unified judicial practice, when citizen turns to a lawyer, he can confidently tell him that in this type of cases, according to information posted by the Supreme Court, for such and such reasons, things may unfold in a specific way.
Of course, it doesn't mean that precedent system will be introduced in Azerbaijan, although some people think that way. No, Azerbaijan has a continental law system, not Anglo-Saxon, and we're not guided by precedent system, but this does not prevent us from forming a unified judicial practice. Overall, this kind of legal position will favorably affect quality of legal assistance provided to citizens by lawyers, as well as significantly increase prestige and authority of the judiciary system in the eyes of citizens.
- Why was decision to increase number of judges by 200 people made?
- Azerbaijan has a problem with number of judges, since it's much lower here than in other member-countries of the Council of Europe. The number of lawyers in the country also doesn't meet average European numbers (of course, the Bar Association takes necessary measures; last year the number of lawyers increased by 70%, from 900 to over 1,500, and now there are even more candidates, so we can eliminate existing shortage through selection of new members), but situation is different. If our Bar Association is an independent, self-financing structure, the courts are financed by state budget, so they are not able to expand at will. In this regard, decision of the President to increase the number of judges from 600 to 800 will contribute to improvement of quality of justice system and reduce the time it takes to review the case, because burden on each judge will decrease.
At the same time, it should be understood that 200 new judges won't appear in the country immediately. For nine years I represented the Bar Association in the Committee that selects new judges and I know how difficult this work is. Selection process is very thorough, Azerbaijan's experience in this area is considered to be one of the best in European countries, according the European Justice Commission's data. Naturally, selection of 200 judges will take quite a long time, so this is not a matter of one day. It will take more than a year, at least at the stages of examinations, courses, training. There's also selection procedure itself. However, when this part of the decree is executed and the number of judges increases significantly, citizens will certainly feel positive effect from this.
- Another important point is the creation of special court for entrepreneurs. What do you think about this decision?
- The decree also says about using the world's experience of reforms to improve current administrative economic courts. It's possible that a new special court will be created, which will deal specifically with affairs of entrepreneurs, as well as issues related to fiscal structures, taxes, customs and social protection, compulsory insurance funds and other issues business deals with. I believe that this is being done in order to provide the best conditions for entrepreneurs when they appeal to the court, so that business-related matters are reviewed by qualified specialists. There no arbitration court, independent arbitration in Azerbaijan right now. Attempts to create such institutions have been unsuccessful - and it’s very good that presidential decree raised this issue. I think it could be created inder the Chamber of Commerce, we can invite arbitrators from other countries, like Kazakhstan does, for example.
This will give our entrepreneurs opportunity to choose where their contract dispute will be reviewed in a state court or in arbitration court, and it will improve business climate in the country as a whole and will help to attract foreign investments. Foreign investors, before investing in the economy of any country, always study judicial system, the level and quality of justice, and they are always look whether there's arbitration court or not. That's why presidential decree concerns not only judicial and legal reform, but also economic development in Azerbaijan, since its implementation will give necessary impulse to achieve breakthrough in other areas and improve quality of entire spectrum of reforms.
In addition, Azerbaijan recently adopted new, very progressive law on mediation, taking into account leading international experience. Mediation is a very important tool, an alternative way of resolving disputes, which will reduce burden on courts and give people more ways to resolve disputes without involving courts. This way, the state seeks to ensure that citizens are satisfied with resolution of disputes that arise in their work, family life, business, and so on. I believe that all these measures will soon bring great results.