Laws ensure the general safety of society and greatly impact restrictions and freedoms of people, their quality of life and their decision-making.
This is why there are heated discussions and active waves of protests when a particular legal norm does not benefit a group of people, or has the potential to harm or harms their interests. Consequently, laws that are acceptable to society are adopted without much emotion or commotion.
In 2022, laws that were adopted in previous years came into force, new bills were put to public discussion, and still others were brought before parliament and enacted. Below is a wrap up of some of the most significant pieces of legislation that Armenia’s parliament adopted this year.
Laws That Came Into Force in 2022
The Smoking Ban
A number of provisions of a law aimed at reducing and preventing tobacco-related health problems adopted February 13, 2020 came into force in 2022.
Starting January 1, the public display of tobacco products, including cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, liquid-based nicotine products (vapes), and electronic nicotine delivery devices at sales points and public catering establishments was prohibited.
Starting on March 15, smoking cigarettes and their substitutes in restaurants, including outdoor cafes was banned.
Plastic Bag Ban
In 2020, an amendment was made to the law “On Trade and Services,” prohibiting the sale of plastic bags up to 50-micron thickness in shops and supermarkets and came into force on January 1, 2022.
An administrative fine of 30,000 AMD is stipulated for using these plastic bags with the exception of packaging bags and those made of secondary raw materials.
The justification underpinning this law was the environmental pollution stemming from widespread plastic bag use by the trade and service sectors in Armenia. Polyethylene packages released into the environment are almost non-biodegradable. Plastic bags are often used for only 10-15 minutes, while taking more than 400 years to break down.
Starting July 1, 2022 three previously adopted new codes came into effect: the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Criminal Enforcement Code.
Armenia’s new Criminal Code was adopted on May 5, 2021 and came into force in 2022. The new Code decriminalizes a number of acts, for example, usury and damage or destruction of property through negligence. The law also criminalized other acts, for example assisting suicide.
The new Code also stipulates criminal liability for legal entities for which punitive measures have also been broadened. New punitive measures are, for example, restriction of freedom and short-term imprisonment.
Anna Margaryan, a member of the working group for the development of the Code’s draft and professor of Criminal Law at Yerevan State University, explains that the new Code revises the penal policy and aims to be less carceral. The previous Code emphasized imprisonment, while the new one aims to keep people out of prison when and where possible. For example, if a person has committed a minor crime for the first time, imprisonment is not handed down as a sentence.
Significantly, the new code decriminalizes “Grave Insult” which had created a backlash in Armenian society and was heavily criticized by international organizations for fears that it might lead to a clampdown on independent media. Grave insult was criminalized on August 30, 2021.
Criminal Procedure Code
The Criminal Procedure Code was adopted on June 30, 2021, bringing a number of significant changes, including establishing the practice of using reserve judges. If a case requires a long period of examination, the presiding judge appoints a reserve judge who is present in the courtroom during the trial. This is done with the aim of not having to restart the trial or have it be prolonged in case of a change of the judge.
Another change is the establishment of “cooperation proceedings” or what is known in some Western countries as a plea deal. This is when the defendant requests a cooperation agreement with the prosecution and provides them with crucial information to uncover medium, serious to particularly serious crimes in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Laws and Codes Adopted in 2022
Criminal Enforcement Code
The Criminal Enforcement Code was adopted and came into force in 2022. According to Deputy Justice Minister Arpine Sargsyan, the new Code is designed around the idea of working individually with every convict. Thus, an individual plan for each convict is implemented upon their arrival at the penitentiary, which is then revised every three to six months. The goal is to ensure predictability and the implementation of targeted measures.
An amendment to the operation of correctional facilities was also implemented changing the designation of penitentiaries from open, semi-open, semi-closed and closed to a three tiered security level system: minimum-, medium- and maximum-security. According to Sargsyan, medical correctional facilities as stand alone institutions will be eliminated thereby “having minimum, medium and maximum security categories aligns with the initiative to have an individual plan for each convict, which is based on risk assessment and criminogenic profiling.”
The law on non-cash transactions was adopted on January 18 of this year and came into force on July 1. All transactions of more than 300,000 AMD must be electronic. This includes salaries, credits and loans provided by banks and credit organizations, loan payments, and insurance benefits as well as individual transactions like tuitions as well as medical payments and legal services.
Separating the State Protection Service from the National Security Service
The December 20 extraordinary session of the National Assembly adopted a legislative package on the law “On ensuring the security of persons subject to special state protection” and made amendments to other laws.
After the legislative package’s entry into force, the State Protection Service (SPS) will be separated from the National Security Service (NSS), becoming a separate body subordinate to the Prime Minister.
The SPS will be headed by a civilian and not someone with a military rank; his/her deputies can be either civilian or military according to the law.
Explaining the decision, Secretary of the National Security Council Armen Grigoryan said, “At the moment there is a political decision that the National Security Service should have three main functions: [to engage in] counter-intelligence, maintain constitutional order, and fight terrorism.”
The Creation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
On December 16, the National Assembly adopted a legislative package on the law, “On State structure and operations” and made amendments to subsequent laws.
This entails the creation of a Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Ministry of Emergency Situations will be dissolved and agencies that will be subordinated to the new Ministry of Internal Affairs include the police, migration agency and the passport and visa department. The chief of police and the head of the country’s rescue services will become deputy ministers in the new ministry.
The law was approved during the November 24 session and sent to the National Assembly for an urgent vote which was passed by parliament.
This year the Law “On Regulation of Firearms Circulation” was also adopted and will come into force in 2023. Additionally, Armenia’s new Anti-Corruption Court, which will hear criminal cases on corruption and civil cases of confiscation of illegally obtained assets, went into operation.
Bills That Were Not Adopted
The Salt Ban
In March 2022, the Ministry of Health presented a draft amendment to the law “On Trade and Services” and the Code on Administrative Offenses up for public discussion.
The bill proposed banning salt shakers on tables in public food facilities unless requested by the customer. It foresaw an administrative fine of 30,000 AMD for breaking the law.
The justification for the initiative was that the average daily intake of salt should not be more than five grams. In Armenia, the average salt intake is double that. The initiative was aimed at decreasing the public’s salt intake and lowering the risk of illnesses stemming from excessive salt use.
Confiscation of Illegally Obtained Assets
On May 19, 2022, an extraordinary session of the National Assembly discussed the draft legislation to make a number of amendments and additions to the law. The initiative proposed expanding the scope of who is considered a “public official” to also include individuals in the public service and not only officials who are required to submit property and income declarations.
In the justification for the draft, it is stated that currently public officials and public service officials are different categories. The current law allows for investigating, for example, the assistant to a deputy regional governor or the spokesperson of the Human Rights Defender’s office if there is sufficient grounds to suspect that they or people related to them have illegally acquired assets through their official work. At the same time, the head of the State Revenue Services or a regional military commissar — public service officials — cannot be investigated, even with sufficient grounds for suspicion.
The initiative also proposed to extend the investigation time from two to three years. Another noteworthy proposed amendment is to allow the prosecution to demand an amount equal to the acquisition value instead of an amount equal to the market value of the asset to be confiscated.
Permanent Police Access to Video Surveillance
On December 1, 2022, the Armenian police put the proposed amendment of the law “On Police” to public discussion.
The draft proposed that the police have daily, 24-hour live access to video surveillance systems of places like banks, casinos, arms trading organizations, pharmacies, and parking lots and can receive video recordings upon request.
Installation of video surveillance in public transportation (buses and minibuses) was also suggested. The footage would be recorded in high definition and kept for at least ten days.
150,000 USD to Receive Armenian Citizenship
In October, the Police presented a draft initiative by the government for public discussion, which proposed a more simplified pathway to Armenian citizenship for people who have been deemed to have significantly contributed to Armenia.
According to the initiative, people who have invested at least 150,000 USD in fields such as economy, education, culture, and sports would be eligible to receive citizenship; 284 people voted against the initiative on the e-draft website, the platform where legislative initiatives and laws are posted for public discussion, 14 people voted in favor.
State Revenue Committee Access to Banking Information
In July of this year, the State Revenue Committee (SRC) presented a set of proposed amendments to the laws “On Bank Secrecy” and “On Insurance and Insurance Activities” for public discussion. The draft proposed that the SRC have access to information considered privileged without a court order. In other words a written request and the SRC would be able to obtain confidential banking information.
The justification for the draft emphasized that the amendment is necessary to ensure more appropriate, complete and comprehensive tax control to uncover economic crime. According to the justification, businesses often refuse to provide information of bank transfers, credit and deposit contracts, collateral, etc., which sometimes makes inspection impossible.
The initiative was widely discussed and heavily criticized. It has since been removed from e-draft.am, but discussions and the vote count are still accessible.
This year several other drafts such as Voluntary Medical Sterilization and establishing a legal role of Specialized Personal Assistants for people with disabilities were also discussed. Discussions were also initiated regarding legislation that has still to be drafted, like joint declaration of property and income and moving universities outside of the capital.
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In this last magazine issue for the year entitled “Reflection”, we present articles that look back on 2022, from issues of security, to adopted laws to the major events that took place in Armenia’s tech sector.
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