Justice Minister Rustam Badasian on Thursday defended a controversial government bill that offers members of Armenia’s Constitutional Court 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.
One of those judges, Alvina Gyulumian, rejected the lucrative offer as unethical on Tuesday. She suggested that her colleagues will also decline it.
The bill has also been criticized by some legal experts and the government’s political opponents. They say that it amounts to a legal “bribe.”
Badasian insisted, however, that his ministry has simply devised a legal mechanism for voluntary “early retirement” of judges adopted in many other countries.
“It’s a common practice for transitional periods and that’s what our bill envisages,” he told reporters. “We are awaiting constructive proposals.”
“Any solution contains certain political elements,” said Badasian. “But it doesn’t mean it’s a partisan decision. It’s a political decision which cannot and does not transcend the boundaries of a rule-of-law state.”
The bill was publicized late last week following Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s harsh criticism of the Constitutional 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.
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 suggested it after challenging the legitimacy of seven fellow judges installed before amendments to the Armenian constitution took effect in April 2018.
The court’s eight other members, including Tovmasian, dismissed Grigorian’s claims.
Ara Ghazarian, a lawyer and expert on international law, also denied on Thursday the existence of a “constitutional crisis” in the country. Still, he said the “early retirement” tentatively offered by the government is not a bad idea in principle.
“I don’t think it’s a bribe,” Ghazarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “In essence, it’s a deal. The practice of a deal exists in jurisprudence.”
“The question is what this would be done for,” he said. “If the idea is to get Constitutional Court judges to quit because [the government thinks] there is a crisis in the court, I don’t see such a crisis.”
The government, Ghazarian went on, would be wrong to try to get rid of some judges for purely political reasons. “If that is the aim of the deal I believe it does not reflect an objective necessity,” he said. “Political expediency is not an objective necessity.”