A representative of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on Tuesday praised the Armenian government for asking legal experts from the Strasbourg-based organization to help end its standoff with Armenia’s Constitutional Court.
Justice Minister Rustam Badasian appealed to the Venice Commission last Thursday as his government further delayed the conduct of a referendum on its controversial efforts to oust seven of the court’s nine judges.
Prime Nikol Pashinian indicated two days later that the referendum, originally scheduled for April 5, will not be held anytime soon due to the coronavirus pandemic. Pashinian said he hopes the Venice Commission will help Yerevan find alternatives ways of “partly or fully resolving the Constitutional Court issue.”
“The Armenian authorities have decided to request the opinion of the Venice Commission – the Council of Europe’s body of legal experts – on possible changes to the Constitution regarding the Constitutional Court and this is very good news,” said Kimmo Kiljunen, a PACE co-rapporteur on Armenia.
“The suspension of the referendum due to the coronavirus, and the choice made by the government to request this opinion and return the issue to parliament are all the more relevant given that the Armenian authorities will now have time to reflect on the opinion of the Venice Commission before taking further action and informing the public,” he added in a statement.
Kiljunen and the other PACE co-rapporteur, Andrej Sircelj, expressed concern over mounting tensions between Armenia’s political leadership and highest court in a joint statement issued on February 6. They said “political players” in the South Caucasus state should “refrain from actions and statements that could be perceived as exerting pressure on the judiciary.”
They also urged the authorities in Yerevan to send their draft constitutional amendments to the Venice Commission for examination “as soon as possible.”
Representatives of the two opposition parties represented in the Armenian parliament similarly said that a Venice Commission opinion on the proposed changes is essential for the legitimacy of the process. Pashinian’s political allies countered, however, that the authorities are not obliged to consult with the Council of Europe body.
The prime minister implicitly criticized the Venice Commission on February 20. He said the watchdog must answer “some questions” raised by the Armenian authorities before it can scrutinize the constitutional changes sought by them.
Pashinian has repeatedly accused Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian and six other justices of maintaining ties to the country’s “corrupt former regime” and impeding judicial reforms. Tovmasian and opposition figures have dismissed these claims, saying that Pashinian is simply seeking to gain control over the court.