They will replace justices controversially ousted as a result of amendments to the Armenian constitution enacted in June. The 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.
In line with the constitution, Pashinian’s government, President Armen Sarkissian and a national convention of Armenian judges each nominated last month a candidate to fill one of the disputed vacancies.
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.
The National Assembly controlled by Pashinian’s My Step bloc voted to appoint them on Tuesday amid strong criticism voiced by several Armenian civic groups. The latter claimed that the new judges were linked to the former Armenian authorities in one way or another and that their election will therefore not address what Pashinian has repeatedly described as a lack of public trust in the Constitutional Court.
Pashinian rounded on the critics during his government’s question-and-answer session in the parliament, saying that they are primarily concerned with their own parochial interests, rather than the rule of law.
“In any situation, there are groups, political or non-political forces that want to further their interests and agendas and to install their people, their candidates, their clients in certain positions on behalf of the public,” he said.
“I believe that what happened in the National Assembly was very important: it ended the crisis around the Constitutional Court,” declared the prime minister. “Does it mean that an ideal Constitutional Court has been formed? No, it doesn’t.”
Pashinian also lambasted civic activists who claim that the selection of the new high court justices contradicted the goals of the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” led by him. He said that they cannot act like “ardent defenders of the revolution’s values” because they played no part in the popular uprising that brought him to power.
For more than a year, Pashinian was locked in a standoff with Tovmasian and six other Constitutional Court members installed before the revolution. He accused them of maintaining close ties to Armenia’s former government and impeding his judicial reforms. Tovmasian dismissed Pashinian’s claims and in turn accused the prime minister of seeking to take control of the country’s highest court.