A senior judge of Armenia’s Court of Cassation who upheld a controversial ruling in a Yerevan family’s property compensation dispute with the government has been urged to resign after the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) challenged his conduct in a ruling described by some leading Armenian lawyers as “unprecedented”.
The plaintiffs, the family of Yuri Vardanian, Artashes Vardanian and Shushanik Nanushian, had claimed the Armenian authorities paid them only less than a fifth of the real market value of their house estimated at 276 million drams (about $580,000) in compensation after it was demolished as part of a controversial government-backed redevelopment project in central Yerevan.
Courts in Armenia, including the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest judicial instance, ruled in favor of the government, after which the family sued the Republic of Armenia at the Strasbourg-based court.
The ECtHR decision on the so-called Vardanian and Nanushian v. Armenia case publicized last week recognized that the Republic of Armenia violated “the principle of legal certainty and equality of arms, lack of a fair hearing by an impartial tribunal and deprivation of property.”
In its verdict the European Court also gave an assessment to the current chairman of the Armenian Court of Cassation Arman Mkrtumian, referred as Judge M. “Judge M.’s conduct, lacking in the necessary detachment demanded by the principle of judicial neutrality, raised an objectively justified fear that he lacked impartiality when deciding the applicant’s case within the meaning of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention,” the ruling reads.
Leading Armenian lawyer Gevorg Gyozalian described the kind of assessment as “unprecedented” for Armenia. “Being familiar with the rulings of the ECtHR I can say that to date I haven’t seen a ruling on Armenia in which the ECtHR would expressly state an opinion about a specific judge,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) over the weekend.
Another leading Armenian lawyer, Yervand Varosian, argued that after such a decision Mkrtumian must leave his current post.
“If the authorities want to achieve real changes in the judicial system, it will be impossible to do so without personnel changes,” he said.
Gyozalian said that while he did not agree with opinions that judges themselves should compensate damages incurred by Armenia under ECtHR rulings, he still thought that the government should somehow respond to the judge’s actions.
“The judge had a clear interest to be in favor of the government in this case. And naturally after the ECtHR makes such an assessment, the government of a law-abiding state must somehow react to that, up to using disciplinary means against a given judge,” he said.
Judge Mkrtumian himself could not be reached for comment. First Deputy Head of the Judicial Department Anna Vardapetian said he was busy and could not answer media questions.
“In this regard the Judicial Department or any other body cannot express any position, because it is an assessment of the Strasbourg court. In any case, rulings of the European Court cannot serve as a basis for disciplining a judge, especially when the matter concerns legal assessments,” Vardapetian said.
The ECtHR’s latest decision is intermediate and gives an opportunity to the Armenian government and the applicants to reach a settlement. Otherwise, the Strasbourg-based court itself will set the size for the compensation.
The plaintiffs declined to make any comments on the case, saying that they were expecting a corresponding offer from the government.