A new member of a state body overseeing Armenia’s courts unexpectedly resigned on Friday just hours after it rejected a legal challenge launched against her.
Nakhshun Tavaratsian, a controversial Court of Cassation judge, already tendered her resignation in November ten days after being elected to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) by fellow judges. Tavaratsian changed her mind and took an oath of office during another conference of Armenian judges held on July 11. She argued that she can join the SJC because her resignation was never accepted.
Three other members of the SJC -- Grigor Bekmezian, Liparit Melikjanian and Hayk Hovannisian -- issued on Tuesday a joint statement saying that Tavaratsian technically joined the council in November. Citing the Armenian Judicial Code, they said she must be expelled from it for absenteeism.
The 9-member council discussed their objections at a special meeting that began on Thursday. Tavaratsian insisted that her membership of the SJC formally began after her swearing-in ceremony, rather than in November, and that she did not skip sessions of the council held in the last seven months.
Tavaratsian also claimed that she had to step down in November because of an “unhealthy situation” created by her election. She referred to some judges’ discontent with her appointment to the SJC.
Two of those judges were due to testify at the SJC meeting. But the council’s acting chairman, Sergey Chichoyan, said one of them is ill while the other on holiday.
The majority of the council members went on to reject the objections voiced against Tavaratsian, who has worked as a judge for over two decades.
In her letter of resignation posted on the SJC’s Facebook page later in the day, Tavaratsian said she wants to make sure that “reasonable or baseless presumptions” do not cast a shadow over the SJC. The council should operate in an “atmosphere of trust and solidarity,” she said.
“I believe that by continuing my work as a Court of Cassation judge I will further increase the authority of the judicial system and effectiveness of justice,” added Tavaratsian.
The Armenian constitution gives the SJC wide-ranging powers, including the right to nominate, sanction and even fire judges. Half of its ten members are appointed by the Armenian parliament while the five others are chosen by the country’s judges.
The SJC was effectively paralyzed last month by the resignations of its chairman, Gagik Harutiunian, and four other members, which followed a radical reform of the Armenian judicial system demanded by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. The latter said that many judges remain linked to “the former corrupt system.”
The National Assembly swiftly filled two of the SJC vacancies later in June. Bekmezian was one of the new council members elected by the National Assembly. They both were nominated by Pashinian’s My Step alliance.
Two other council members were chosen by judges last week. The SJC elected one of them, Ruben Vartazarian, as its new chairman later on Friday.