The parliament’s pro-government majority voted for them three months after passing constitutional changes calling for the gradual resignation of seven of the court’s nine judges locked in a standoff with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s political team.
Three of them were to resign with immediate effect. The constitutional amendments also required Hrayr Tovmasian to quit as court chairman but remain a judge.
Tovmasian and the ousted judges refused to step down, saying that their removal is illegal and politically motivated. They appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to have them reinstated.
Tovmasian and the six other court justices have been under strong government pressure to step down over the past year. Pashinian has accused them of maintaining close ties to Armenia’s former government and impeding his judicial reforms. Tovmasian has dismissed Pashinian’s claims and in turn accused the prime minister of seeking to take control of the country’s highest court.
In line with the Armenian constitution, Pashinian’s government, President Armen Sarkissian and a national convention of Armenian judges each nominated last month a candidate to replace the ousted high court members.
The government’s pick for the court was Edgar Shatirian, a 40-year-old law lecturer, while Sarkissian nominated Artur Vagharshian, a chair of jurisprudence at Yerevan State University. The judges’ nominee, Yervand Khundkarian, has headed the Court of Cassation, Armenia’s highest body of criminal and administrative justice, for the last two years.
Pro-government deputies overwhelmingly backed all three candidates despite objections voiced by some of them. The latter claimed, in particular, that Khundkarian, Vagharshian and Shatirian were linked to the former Armenian authorities in one way or another.
Alen Simonian, a deputy parliament speaker and leading member of Pashinian’s My Step bloc, downplayed the misgivings. “Believe me, no matter whom we nominate there will always be conflicting interests,” he told journalists after the announcement of the parliament vote results.
Simonian also insisted that the current authorities are not intent on creating a “puppet” Constitutional Court. “The authorities are forming a new and principled Constitutional Court,” he said.
The election of the new court justices was boycotted by lawmakers representing the two parliamentary opposition parties, Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia. They maintain that the recent constitutional changes were enacted in breach of other articles of the Armenian constitution.