Justice Minister Rustam Badasian on Thursday did not exclude that constitutional changes planned by the Armenian authorities will fully change the composition of the country’s Constitutional Court.
The authorities have already tried in recent months to replace the chairman and six other judges of the 9-member court who were installed by former Armenian governments. Under a controversial government bill passed by the parliament in December, they will receive lavish financial benefits if they agree to resign by February 27.
None of those judges has accepted the proposed early retirement so far. Some of them have denounced the offer as disrespectful.
“It won’t be a tragedy if nobody applies for the early retirement and it won’t be a tragedy if somebody applies,” Badasian told reporters.
“I have already said that the overall crisis existing in the judicial system and the Constitutional Court in particular can and must be resolved through constitutional changes,” he said. “Whatever solution we find now, it cannot help to fully restore public trust in the entire judicial system.”
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has repeatedly pledged to implement judicial reforms that would make Armenian courts “truly independent.” His critics say that he simply wants to gain full control over the judiciary and the Constitutional Court in particular.
Pashinian decided in late December to set up a commission tasked with drafting wide-ranging amendments to the Armenian constitution. It will consist of 15 members, including Badasian, the Armenian government’s representative to the European Court of Human Rights, human rights ombudsman Arman Tatoyan and a representative of the country’s judges.
It will also comprise two civil society members, representatives of the three political forces represented in the Armenian parliament and six legal scholars who have already been chosen by the Justice Ministry on a supposedly competitive basis.
The ministry published the list of those constitutional law experts on Wednesday. The list does not include Arpine Hovannisian, a former justice minister who had also applied for commission membership. Hovannisian suspended her membership of the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia a year ago but remains very critical of the current government.
Badasian admitted that Hovannisian was excluded from the commission as a result of a “political decision.” He implicitly cited her role in the previous constitutional reform carried out by the former government in 2015.
“I want to thank Mr. Badasian for his frank answer which fully reflects the standards lying at the heart of the constitutional commission’s formation,” Hovannisian reacted later in the day. “This is an obvious disgrace conditioned by political views,” she wrote on Facebook.