History of the Public Defender’s Office
In execution of the requirements of RA law on advocacy adopted in 2005 the Board of the Chamber of Advocates of the Republic of Armenia established in 2006 the charter of the Public Defender’s Office, and thus a foundation was, in fact, laid for the establishment of the Public Defender’s Office. At the beginning totally there were 32 Yerevan and regional public defenders who worked at their houses or temporary offices.
In June, 2007 the Yerevan office of the Public Defender’s Office was opened that made the path towards sustainable development of the office.
During the first years free legal assistance was given in accordance with the regulations of the law exceptionally in the cases prescribed by RA Criminal Procedure Code: people subjected to criminal persecution, and in cases prescribed by RA Civil Procedure Code: cases on alimony seizure, cases related to distortion or other health damage infliction, as well as compensation of damage caused as a result of death of the breadwinner of the family.
Afterwards, as a result of the legislative amendments adopted in 2011 the scope of people eligible for free legal aid on civil, administrative and other cases was legislatively widened incorporating 11 groups of beneficiaries. And on some group legal regulations entered into legal force from 1 January, 2013 and on other groups from 1 January, 2014.
In the subsequent years as well legislative amendments enlarged the scope of groups of people subject for free legal support. Currently free legal support is provided to 16 groups of people in case of applying to the office.
Parallel with legislative changes, in consideration of Public Defender’s Office extra workload, the financial resources allocated by the state for the PDO staff increased. As a result in 2016 the number of public defenders reached 54. Despite workload sustainable increase , including conditioned by legislative widening of groups of people eligible for free legal aid, in 2016 increase of number of public defenders was not reviewed and extra staff addition was not done.
The Public Defender’s Office was established with introduction of completely new concept for Armenia as well as the region. During the whole process of PDO creation pressure was exerted to refuse this model, however the years of quality service provision in reality proved the efficiency and need of the chosen model.
American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative had tremendous support in creation and establishment of Public Defender’s Office. The latter was a sustainable partner of the office continually supporting it in assessing its public defense service capacity and effective development.
Throughout its operation, both with the office’s own resources and through cooperation, continual steps were taken to increase the quality of the free legal assistance, develop multi-sphere knowledge and skills of public defenders, invest new methodology and toolkit. Continually the inner organization, administration and supervision, as well as the office activity transparency was improved.
Besides, public awareness raising activities were carried out on an ongoing basis directed at increasing citizens’ informedness on right to have a defense attorney and PDO services. Result is the sustainable annual applicant number increase. Parallel to it actions were taken to make the free legal assistance more comprehensive and accessible. Currently PDO is presented and has branches in almost all the urban regional areas of Armenia. The services are provided in all region in both criminal law and civil law specializations.