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Government Panel Wants To Abolish Armenia’s Constitutional Court


Armenia -- The Constitutional Court building in Yerevan, December 27, 2019.

A government commission on constitutional reform has recommended the abolition of Armenia’s Constitutional Court which has been locked in a standoff with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s administration.

The 15-member commission voted narrowly over the weekend for a draft amendment that would merge the Constitutional Court with the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest body of criminal and administrative justice. Armenia would have a U.S.-style Supreme Court as a result.

Pashinian said in June that the ad commission body formed by his government in January should “very seriously” such a merger.

Daniel Ioannisian, one of the eight commission members who backed the idea, said on Monday that the Supreme Court would make it easier for Armenians to challenge the legality of decisions made by various state bodies.

Ioannisian also argued that many Constitutional Court rulings have been ignored by other Armenian courts. “We will address this problem as well,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Courts will now know that [every Supreme Court ruling] is the position of a court to which they are subordinate.”

But Artur Ghambarian, one of the seven other members who oppose the merger, insisted that the commission majority failed to substantiate the need for such a dramatic change. “They should come up with serious arguments and grounds in favor of dissolving major constitutional institutions and creating new ones in their place,” he wrote on Facebook.

Other critics, notably supporters of Armenia’s former leadership, claimed that the proposed dissolution of the Constitutional Court is part of Pashinian’s efforts to gain control over the judiciary.

For almost a year, Pashinian was at loggerheads with seven of the nine members of the Constitutional Court, accusing them of being linked to the former regime and impeding judicial reforms.

In June, the Armenian parliament controlled by his My Step bloc passed constitutional changes calling for the gradual resignation of those judges. They all had taken the bench before April 2018.

The amendments required two of them to resign with immediate effect. They also stipulated that Hrayr Tovmasian must quit as court chairman but remain a judge.

Tovmasian and the ousted judges have refused to step down, saying that their removal is illegal and politically motivated. They have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to have them reinstated.

Despite the legal action, Pashinian, President Armen Sarkissian and a nationwide assembly of Armenian judges have nominated candidates to replace the ousted judges. Under the Armenian constitution, all new members of the Constitutional Court must be appointed by the parliament.

The government nominee, Vahram Avetisian, last week withdrew his candidacy opposed by some lawmakers affiliated with Pashinian’s bloc. The government has yet to formally pick another candidate.

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