Judiciary's New Approach to Appeals Trials is Against the Law
On July 21, 2019, Tehran Ministry of Justice office head Gholamhossein Isma’ili addressed a letter to supervisors of Tehran Province appeals courts requesting the temporary elimination of certain trial formalities for the ostensible purpose of dealing with prolonged legal proceedings. In the letter, Isma’ili referenced the fact that Iran judiciary chief Ebrahim Ra’isi had obtained permission from the country’s Supreme Leader to do away with procedures and trial sessions foreseen in Article 450 of Iran’s Criminal Code . This authorization, which might be called governmental edict of the Supreme Leader’s office, has resulted in the elimination of a very important article with bearing on fair trial rights.
Paragraph C of Article 450 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure states: “Apart from the instances mentioned in the above paragraphs, wherever a crime is among those crimes carrying hoddud or qesas punishments, or unintentional crimes carrying more than half of dieh, or for ta’zir crimes of the fourth or fifth degree absolutely, or ta’zir crimes of the fifth and sixth degree in cases of an incarceration verdict, and in other cases where petitioned, the appeals court shall, by issuing an order establishing a time, summon the parties and persons [to the case], whose presence is necessary. The parties may be present in person or introduce a lawyer. In any case the lack of presence of a lawyer or failure to introduce a lawyer is not an impediment to trial.” According to this Article, appeals courts were, in a considerable number of cases, obligated to hold trial sessions and invite parties to the case and their lawyers to participate. This stipulation had entered the Iranian judicial system with the 2015 Code of Criminal Procedure; prior to this, there was no requirement for the holding of trial sessions and the presence of parties. According to the 1999 Code of Criminal Procedure for Public and Revolutionary Courts: “Wherever the appeals court finds the proceedings of the court of the first instance invalid, or finds it necessary to summon related persons to investigate the statements and defenses of parties or other stated evidence, it shall determine a time and summon them. The parties may be present in person or introduce a lawyer. In any case the lack of the presence of a lawyer or failure to introduce one is not an impediment to trial.” In accordance with this Article, appeals judges would act to hold court sessions when they deemed it necessary to hear the statements of parties: in practice a considerable majority of cases referred to appeals courts were taken up without trials being conducted.
After the new Code took effect in 2015, a number of appeals judges registered their dissatisfaction over being made to hold trial sessions with the presence of parties, while judicial authorities thought the new stipulation to be a strain on appeals courts which needlessly drew out the legal process. For this reason, the judiciary suggested reforming Article 50 to return to the previous state. After Rai’si’s appointment to the head of the judiciary, he requested that the Supreme Leader issue a governmental edict to suspend implementation of Paragraph C of Article 450 until Parliament reformed the law, a proposal to which the Supreme Leader assented. At present, proceedings in appeals courts are to be conducted on the basis of the Judiciary Chief’s decision and without trial sessions being mandatory, a situation which is against the law.
One of the cases which has been adjudicated without trial sessions on the basis of this governmental directive for which the court of first instance’s verdict has been upheld is that of Aras Amiri. On May 13, 2019, a Revolutionary Court sentenced Amiri to 10 years’ prison time and a two-year ban from employment and leaving the country on security-related charges. In July/August 2019, an appeals court upheld the verdict in its entirety without convening a trial session . Parisa Rafi’i and Pedram Pazireh were arrested in connection with January 2018 protests and each sentenced by the court of first instance to seven years’ ta’zir prison, 74 lashes, and a two-year ban on employment and membership in groups or political parties; their verdict, too, was upheld without a court session . Another such case is that of Hamed Ayinehvand, a journalist imprisoned at Evin. In July/August 2019, Ayinehvand’s lawyer Hossein Bayat announced he had reported to an appeals session to which he had been invited only to be told by officials that the head of the judiciary had issued a proclamation that holding court sessions was no longer necessary .