The new members of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), Karen Andreasian and Yeranuhi Tumaniants, served as minister and deputy minister of justice respectively until Wednesday.
Andreasian was also affiliated with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party that holds a comfortable majority in the Armenian parliament. He terminated his membership in the party on September 20 right after it nominated him for the vacant post in the SJC.
Andreasian insisted on Thursday that he has severed all ties with Civil Contract and will not be influenced by it in his new capacity. “No government will be able to influence me,” he assured journalists.
The SJC nominates judges, monitors their integrity and can also dismiss them. It was rocked this summer by a scandal sparked by a leaked audio featuring its former chairman, Ruben Vartazarian, and his controversial successor, Gagik Jahangirian.
Vartazarian fell out with Pashinian in late 2020 as the prime minister’s political allies accused him of encouraging Armenian courts to free arrested opposition figures. Vartazarian denied the accusations before being indicted and suspended in April 2021.
Jahangirian became the acting head of the SJC as a result. He was widely regarded as a figure loyal to Pashinian.
The judicial watchdog formally deposed Vartazarian as its chairman and member on June 23 three days after he publicized a secretly recorded audio of a February 2021 conversation with Jahangirian in which the latter appeared to warn him to resign or face criminal charges.
The 14-minute recording caused uproar in Armenia. Jahangirian announced his resignation from the SJC on July 1.
The seven remaining members of the SJC failed to elect its new chairman later in July. Andreasian confirmed that he will now run for the vacant post.
As justice minister, Andreasian repeatedly called for a mandatory vetting of Armenian judges, an idea that has prompted serious misgivings from European legal experts. In February, he stated that the SJC must fire scores of judges, including those who openly accused the Armenian authorities of seeking to curb judicial independence under the guise of Western-backed judicial reforms.
Andreasian was also instrumental in the passage a year ago of a controversial government bill that empowered the Ministry of Justice to demand that the SJC take disciplinary action against judges. In a joint statement issued in January, a dozen judges accused Andreasian of abusing that authority to bully them and their colleagues known for their independence.
Andreasian also raised eyebrows last year when he hung a picture of Pashinian in his ministerial office.
“When I look at the picture during my work I remember that I have to be honest and impartial,” he explained at the time.