“I have good news for you,” Gagik Jahangirian told reporters. “A member of our council, Davit Khachaturian, has drawn up a bill on a vetting mechanism mentioned by you … We will send it to the parliament or the government soon. Let’s see who will take on the role of the bill’s locomotive, so to speak.”
“Those people who have committed crimes against justice must definitely be purged,” he said. “This is the most serious crime for judges and law-enforcement bodies.”
Jahangirian gave no details of the bill.
Jahangirian himself was at odds with human rights activists when he served Armenia’s chief military prosecutor from 1997-2006. They accused him of covering up crimes and abetting other abuses in the Armenian armed forces throughout his tenure.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian demanded a mandatory “vetting” of all Armenian judges in May 2019 after a Yerevan judge released former President Robert Kocharian from custody and questioned the legality of coup charges brought against him.
Pashinian’s government subsequently agreed to refrain from such a purge of the judiciary at the urging of European legal experts. A government bill on judicial reforms enacted in March 2020 calls instead for a “verification of the integrity” of judges which is carried out by a state anti-corruption body.
The prime minister again publicly lambasted the judiciary last December after courts refused to allow the arrests of dozens of opposition members and supporters who challenged him following Armenia’s defeat in the war with Azerbaijan.
In January, the Armenian parliament installed Jahangirian as well as Khachatrian as members of the SJC, which is empowered to nominate, sanction and fire judges. Both men are regarded as figures loyal to the country’s leadership.
In April, the SJC chairman, Ruben Vartazarian, was controversially suspended and charged with obstruction of justice after Pashinian’s political allies accused him of encouraging courts to free the arrested government critics.
Vartazarian denies the accusations. He has said the authorities ordered the criminal proceedings to replace him with Jahangirian.
Jahangirian was named as acting head of the SJC pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.
In recent weeks, Armenian judges have sanctioned the pre-trial arrests of several opposition-linked local government officials facing different criminal charges rejected by them as politically motivated.
Jahangirian denied on Monday trying to increase government influence on courts. He argued that he became the SJC’s caretaker chairman only because of being the oldest member of the judicial watchdog.
A Yerevan court ruled last month that law-enforcement authorities breached Vartazarian’s legal immunity from prosecution and that he must therefore be reinstated as SJC chairman, saying that.
Most of the SJC’s eight other members effectively refused to let him again run the body, however, saying that the ruling is addressed to the investigators, rather than the judicial watchdog. Vartazarian responded by asking Armenia’s Administrative Court to obligate the SJC to end his suspension.