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Following Azerbaijan’s independence, fundamental reforms were implemented in the judiciary of the country. These reforms which served to establish a genuine democratic society based on the national, cultural and historical traditions of the Azerbaijani people were aimed, first of all, at ensuring of human rights in a more effective manner. One third of the provisions of the first democratic Constitution of Azerbaijan adopted in 1995 which was prepared in accordance with democratic values and principles and through national ballots is dedicated to human rights and liberties, and the principle of division of power was endorsed. This Constitution which was evaluated by international experts as one of the democratic constituitons of the world laid strong foundations of the democratic system and legal state in the Azerbaijan and created grounds for implementation of legal reforms.
The judicial system of the country inherited from the former soviet union was totally re-established on the basis of democratic principles as a result of judicial-legal reforms implemented under the leadership of the national leader of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev.
In line with the reforms, new progressive laws were adopted, including law “on Constitutional court”, “on Courts and judges”, “on Prosecutor’s office”, “on Police”, “on Investigation-search activities” and other legislation, as well as a Civil and Civil-Procedural Code, Criminal and Criminal-Procedural Code, Execution of Penalties Code and other codes which are fundamentally different from the previous ones. All these laws were drafted in accordance with democratic principles and international legal standards, and were highly valued by international experts.
As a result of the reform of the judiciary, a new 3 stage independent judicial system was established comprised of courts of first instance, courts of appeal and cassation.
The implementation of actions in upgrading the judiciary in the country is always the focus of the government. The President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev issued a Decree on 19 January 2006 on modernization of the judiciary and judicial reforms shifted a new stage effectively.
In recent years, with the improvement of justice new courts, as well as new courts of appeal have been established in the regions, the number of judges has been increased by 2 times, and the structure of judicial offices have been upgraded in order to improve the access of population to courts and to develop the regions. A Judicial Academy was established and began to operate.
At present, district (city) courts as courts of first instance, military, local administrative-economical courts and courts on grave crimes which operate under territorial jurisdiction, function in the Republic of Azerbaijan.
In line with the new judicial system, courts of appeal function in 6 regions of the country. courts of appeal function under relevant territorial jurisdiction and consist of 4 boards – civil, criminal, military and administrative-economical boards. The blockade of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, which is isolated from the mainland Azerbaijan, by the Republic of Armenia has been considered in the organization of the courts of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic which is included in the judiciary of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Thus, the Supreme Court of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic is a court of appeal in relation to the courts of the Autonomous Republic. The rulings of the Supreme Court of Nakhchivan AR are considered by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan under cassation procedure.
There are 4 court boards under the Supreme Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan which is an instance of cassation – Civil, Criminal, Military and Administrative-Economical Court board.
The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Azerbaijan secures the supremacy of the Constitution of Azerbaijan as a supreme constitutional judicial body. Also, according to the law dated 23 December 2003 “on Constitutional Court” adopted under the reforms implemented in the country, the mechanism of exercising the right of citizens to appeal directly to the Constitutional Court to restore violated rights and freedoms was determined.
Under the measures aimed at improving the efficiency of justice, the law on relevant amendments to the law “on Courts and Judges” drafted and adopted in effective collaboration with the Council of Europe and the law “on Judicial-Legal Council” are of significant importance.
Judicial-Legal Council which is a self-governing body of the judicial power was established based on these laws which are in accordance with international norms and principles. It is composed of 15 members and mainly of judges, including the representatives of the President of Azerbaijan, Milli Majlis, Prosecutor’s office, Lawyers Collegium and other persons.
Under the new legislation, immunity and office terms of judges have been re-considered, appointment for indefinite period of time of judges has been defined, the authority to deal with their disciplinary issues has been delegated to the Judicial-Legal Council, and a new institution – Judges Selection Committee has been created to select candidates for positions of judge.
In addition, a separate division engaged in training of judges and state prosecutor, including judge candidates under the Judicial Legal Council.
According to new regulations on judge selection, test examinations, as well as written and oral examinations designed for judge candidates were conducted under multi-stage procedures in 2005 for the first time, long-term training courses were arranged for judge candidates and judges from hight courts, well-known scholars, persons with profound knowledge and experience, as well as reputed foreign experts, including from Turkey, and Human Rights Commisioner of the Council of Europe, judges of the European Court of Human Rights, and experts of the European Center for General Law and ABACEELI were involved in these trainings.
In general, up 2200 judge candidates took part in 3 selection processes and 235 of them succeded and were appointed to positions of judge.
Special support is provided by reputed international financial institutions to the judicial-legal reforms implemented in Azerbaijan. Thus, a joint project – “Judicial Modernization Project” is being implemented by the World Bank which highly values the achievements made in a short period of time in the area of reforms in the country and which was initiated by the leadership of the Ministry of Justice. The project envisions the construction of numerous court buildings, total renewal of the infrastructure in this area and measures to apply the most advanced technologies in courts.
In line with the judicial-legal reforms implemented, the role of prosecution bodies in the society which are part of the judiciary has been reviewed, and their activities have been adapted to international standards and the requirements of democratic institutions. Thus, in accordance with the law “on Prosecutor’s office” adopted in 1999, several powers of the prosecutor’s office which existed before were eliminated, including the power of imposing sanctions for arresting which was delegated to courts, and supervision by prosecutor’s office over courts was ended. At present, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Azerbaijan initiates criminal cases as an independent state body and conducts preliminary investigation, leads preliminary investigation procedure, supervises the implementation of laws in the activity of interrogation and operational-search bodies, and defends state prosecution and files claims for the defense of state interest on civil cases.
Also, a new law “on Lawyers and Legal Profession” was adopted in 1999 in order to organize the activity of the Lawyers Collegium which is an independent institution under new and democratic foundations and improve the access of population to legal services, and legislation in this area was improved further and brought in line with modern requirements with the aim to increase the role of this body in providing legal support.