A Yerevan judge sacked last month has taken legal action against an Armenian judicial body that engineered his controversial dismissal by President Serzh Sarkisian, it emerged on Thursday.
In a lawsuit filed this week, Samvel Mnatsakanian asked a court in the Armenian capital to invalidate a decision by the Justice Council that led Sarkisian to relieve him of his duties on July 11.
The Justice Council, which oversees Armenia’s courts, recommended Mnatsakanian’s dismissal after the latter granted bail to a criminal suspect last May. It claimed that the judge did not substantiate the decision.
Both Mnatsakanian and the Armenian Chamber of Advocates, the national lawyers association, have dismissed those claims as baseless. They say that the council’s chairman, Arman Mkrtumian, was simply infuriated by the fact that Mnatsakanian did not consult with him before ordering the suspect’s release.
They claim that Mkrtumian, who also heads Armenia’s Court of Cassation, thus warned other judges against making major decisions without his consent.
The Court of Cassation, which is the highest body of criminal and administrative justice in the country, and Mkrtumian in particular have refused to comment on these allegations.
“It’s the will of one person, not the laws, that are enforced in a uniform manner today,” Mnatsakanian insisted on Thursday.
“The chairman of the Court of Cassation is trying to adapt everything to his whims,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The former judge’s legal counsel, Artak Zeynalian, claimed that the Justice Council recommendation sent to President Sarkisian must be declared null and void because it was not signed by all nine members of the body.
Zeynalian also rejected the council’s claims that Mnatsakanian granted bail arbitrarily. He argued that state prosecutors did not challenge that ruling in a higher court and that the suspect in question was cleared of criminal charges shortly afterwards.
Armenian courts have long been notorious for their lack of independence, rarely handing down rulings opposed by the government and law-enforcement bodies. Hence, widespread skepticism about repeated government pledges to reform the judicial system.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service last month, Mnatsakanian, who took the bench in 1988, said that many Armenian judges are primarily concerned with not upsetting high-level state authorities, rather than administering justice.