A member of Armenia’s Constitutional Court denounced the government on Tuesday for tentatively offering her and her colleagues financial incentives to resign.
Under a bill drafted by the Armenian Justice Ministry, Constitutional Court judges will continue to receive their salaries and other benefits if they tender resignations by October 31.
The bill was publicized late last week following Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s harsh criticism of the court’s chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian. In a July 19 interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Pashinian implicitly demanded the resignation of Tovmasian and other judges appointed under the country’s previous governments. Tovmasian rebutted the verbal attack, warning Pashinian’s government against trying to force him and his colleagues to quit.
One of the high court judges, Alvina Gyulumian, rejected the Justice Ministry proposal as unethical.
“I will never resign in this way,” Gyulumian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “I have no intention to receive unearned income at the expense of taxpayers. Throughout my life, I have always worked and then gotten paid.”
“I would not be able to look into the eyes of people earning 100,000 drams ($210) and having to pay me, through their taxes, a 700,000-dram salary for doing nothing,” she added.
Gyulumian suggested that other Constitutional Court judge will also decline the lucrative offer of early retirement. “I think or at least presume that my colleagues are no less moral than me,” said the former member of the European Court of Human Rights.
The controversial bill has also been criticized by some legal experts and the government’s political opponents. They say that it amounts to a legal “bribe.”
The Justice Ministry dismissed the criticism on Monday. It said that some European countries, including Poland, introduced similar measures when they reformed their judiciaries.
Gyulumian countered that the Polish judicial reform has fallen foul of European Union standards and proved highly controversial. She pointed to a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice which concluded that the Polish government’s decision to lower the retirement age of Supreme Court judges is “contrary to EU law” and breaches the principles of judicial independence.
The idea of financially encouraging resignations from the Constitutional Court was first floated in June by Vahe Grigorian, the court’s newest judge elected by Armenia’s government-controlled parliament.
Grigorian also claimed that only he and another judge of the 9-member court, Arman Dilanian, can make valid decisions because they were installed after amendments to the Armenian constitution took effect in April 2019.
The eight other members of the Constitutional Courts, including Dilanian, dismissed those claims in a joint statement. Echoing that statement, Gyulumian insisted that there is no “constitutional crisis” in Armenia.