In an attempt to speed up the process of changing the composition of the Constitutional Court the Armenian government on Thursday endorsed a draft law envisaging incentives for members of the highest judicial body in case of their early retirement.
Under the bill which still needs to go through parliament, if members of the Constitutional Court, including its Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian, resign by January 31, 2020, they will continue to receive a pension in the amount of their salary up until the period when their mandate was to expire.
At today’s government session Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian again explained that the current mandates in the Constitutional Court do not reflect the changes in its model introduced as a result of amendments to the constitution adopted in 2015.
“On the one hand, they said they had found the model of a Constitutional Court of our dreams that would solve our problems. On the other hand, they took steps that would not allow the Republic of Armenia to have these coveted Constitutional Court until at least 2035,” Pashinian said, referring to the installment of Tovmasian as Constitutional Court chairman in March 2018, days before the new changes were to be fully enforced.
Running the court under the previous constitution allows Tovmasian, who is now 49, to hold the post until the age of 65. By contrast, had Tovmasian been elected after April 9, 2018, he would be confined to a six-year tenure.
“Today all constitutional amendments are fully enforced. But in the current conditions the amendment concerning the Constitutional Court’s chairman cannot be applied until at least 2035. And this is probably one of the biggest legal absurdities in the Republic of Armenia. Now with this law we are creating an opportunity to solve this problem,” Pashinian said.
Justice Minister Rustam Badasian for his part stressed that the early retirement plan will be implemented on a voluntary basis. That is, he explained, members of the court will themselves decide whether to resign and take advantage of this system or continue in office.
“The [Council of Europe’s] Venice Commission has essentially stated that in all cases where early retirement is truly voluntary there can be no objection to this,” the minister added.
An early retirement plan for members of the Constitutional Court was first proposed several months ago by Vahe Grigorian, who was elected judge of the Constitutional Court in June. He said this system could be one of the ways to end the current “Constitutional Court crisis.”
The idea was strongly criticized by opponents of the Pashinian government, who claimed that this would amount to interference in the work of an independent branch of power.
Members of the Constitutional Court also voiced skepticism over possible financial incentives to resign.
Last month Constitutional Court member Alvina Gyulumian described it as “immoral” to resign and continue to receive a monthly salary of about 700,000 drams (nearly $1,500) from taxpayer money without doing any work.
Constitutional Court member Felix Tokhian on Thursday refused to comment on the draft law endorsed by the government. He told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) that the law may later become a matter for consideration at the Constitutional Court and any opinion expressed by him now could later be viewed as a bias.
Opposition lawmaker Taron Simonian had also criticized the government over its plan, considering it unreasonable. “The purpose of this law is to persuade Hrayr Tovmasian to step down, right?... Why should our taxpayers pay for several years pensions to a group of people who decide to retire? We should understand whether our taxpayers are ready to do that,” he said.
The draft law endorsed by the government will be sent to parliament. Minister Badasian said it will be discussed at an upcoming special session.