The current Criminal Code of Azerbaijan came into force in September 2000, replacing the older Criminal Code of 1960 which had been based on the principles of Soviet law. Article 1 of the Criminal Code states that "the Criminal legislation of the Republic of Azerbaijan consists of this Code. New laws defining criminal responsibility are subject to inclusion in this Code"; this is characteristic of civil law legal systems such as France and Italy.
Sources of law
Unlike common law systems such as the United States and United Kingdom, Azerbaijani courts do not rely extensively on case law and judicial precedent. Except for decisions of the Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan, decisions of the courts are not usually counted as a source of law. The sources of law in the Azerbaijani legal system are:
- The Constitution of Azerbaijan.
- Acts adopted via referendum.
- Laws passed by the National Assembly of Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan's legislature.
- Resolutions of the Cabinet of Ministers.
- International treaties to which Azerbaijan is a party.
The Supreme Court of Azerbaijan is a supreme judicial body on civil, criminal and other cases related to the execution of general and specialized courts. The Constitutional Court of Azerbaijan is the supreme body of constitutional justice on the matters attributed to its jurisdiction by the Constitution, with authority to interpret and apply the Constitution of Azerbaijan.
The 1995 constitution provides for public trials in most cases, the presumption of innocence in criminal cases, and a defendant’s right to legal counsel. Both defendants and prosecutors have the right of appeal. In practice, however, the courts are politically oriented, seeming to overlook the government’s human rights violations. In July 1993, Heydar Aliyev ousted the Supreme Court chief justice because of alleged political loyalties to the opposition. The president directly appoints lower level judges. The president also appoints the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court judges with confirmation by the legislature. Prosecutors (procurators) are appointed by the president with confirmation by the legislature. The minister of justice organizes prosecutors into offices at the district, municipal, and republic levels. The constitution provides equal status for prosecutors and defense attorneys before the courts, but in practice the arrest and investigatory powers of the prosecutors have dominant influence before the courts. Judges will often remand a case for further prosecutory investigation rather than render an innocent verdict. Investigations often rely on obtaining confessions rather than on gathering evidence.
The Azerbaijan government’s human rights record is poor, although some public policy debate is allowed and human rights organizations operate. The government restricts freedom of assembly, religion, and association. Numerous cases of arbitrary arrest, beatings (some resulting in deaths), unwarranted searches and seizures, and other human rights abuses are reported. Political oppositionists are harassed and arrested, and there are dozens of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. The conflict between NK Armenians and Azerbaijanis contributed to widespread human rights violations by both sides. Some opposition newspapers are allowed to exist. Ethnic Lezgins and Talysh have complained of human rights abuses such as restricted educational opportunities in their native languages.