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Parliament Majority Turns On Constitutional Court Head


Armenia -- Deputies from the My Step bloc attend a parliament session in Yerevan, September 9, 2019.

The pro-government majority in Armenia’s parliament will urge the Constitutional Court to replace its chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian, accusing him of mishandling judicial proceedings in the criminal case against former President Robert Kocharian.

Deputies representing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc announced the decision after a meeting held on Monday evening. They said they want the appeal to be made on behalf of the parliament controlled by the bloc.

Speaking after the meeting, the chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs, Vladimir Vartanian, denounced Tovmasian’s handling of Kocharian’s appeals against the legality of coup charges brought against the ex-president.

The Constitutional Court partly accepted one of those appeals on September 4. It declared unconstitutional an article of the Armenian Code of Procedural Justice used against Kocharian.

The latter’s lawyers seized upon the ruling to demand their client’s release from prison. A district court judge presiding over Kocharian’s trial is due to respond to the demand on Tuesday.

The ruling was signed by six of the nine Constitutional Court judges, including Tovmasian. Two other judges wrote dissenting opinions saying that Kocharian’s appeal should have been thrown out.

The court’s ninth judge, Vahe Grigorian, demanded last month that Tovmasian and two other judges recuse themselves from the case. Grigorian said that they cannot be impartial and objective because of having been previously involved in controversial decisions on the case stemming from the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.

Grigorian himself was excluded from the consideration of Kocharian’s appeals in July. Tovmasian argued that he has represented relatives of the eight protesters killed in March 2008 in other courts.

Vartanian said that the Constitutional Court did not even discuss Grigorian’s demands in breach of Armenian law. Besides, he told reporters, Tovmasian should not have dealt with the case also because of his “very close” personal ties one of Kocharian’s lawyers.

The senior pro-government lawmaker also alleged procedural violations in the high court’s recent decision to ask the European Court of Human Rights and the Strasbourg-based Venice Commission for an advisory opinion on another appeal filed by Kocharian.

Ararat Mirzoyan, the parliament speaker and a leading member of My Step, also lambasted Tovmasian when he spoke on the parliament floor on Monday morning. He said the National Assembly should speak up on the matter.

Pashinian went farther at a news conference held in the afternoon. He said the written arguments of the two dissenting judges show that the Constitutional Court made an “illegal decision” on September 4. “At least two of the judges who made that decisions are directly connected with the March 1 [violence] and it is not comprehensible why they had not recused themselves,” he said.

Pashinian already launched a scathing attack on Tovmasian in July. In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, the premier accused him of cutting political deals with former President Serzh Sarkisian to “privatize” Armenia’s highest court. Tovmasian responded by warning the government against trying to force him and his colleagues to resign.

Tovmasian served as a senior lawmaker representing Sarkisian’s Republican Party before becoming the court chairman in March 2018.

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