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New judges for Armenia’s top court, opposition boycotts the vote 

16 September 2020
Armenia's parliament votes on new members of Constitutional Court. Official photo.

Months after removing three of Armenia’s top judges the country’s parliament has voted in their replacements. Opposition parties boycotted the vote.

Armenia’s parliament voted in Yervand Khundkaryan, Edgar Shatiryan and Artur Vagharshyan as new judges to the Constitutional Court on Tuesday. 

Nominees for the position require a supermajority of 3/5ths of parliament to be approved. As the ruling My Step faction controls a majority of seats in parliament, it was able to pass the motion successfully.

Opposition factions Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia boycotted the vote.

A controversial judge

The nomination of Yervand Khundkaryan, who had previously served as the Chair of the Court of Cassation,  to the Constitutional Court was met with a storm of controversy. Lawyers, politicians and human rights activists have criticised him for judicial malpractice allegedly carried out while he was a judge before Armenia’s revolution in 2018.   

At least 13 cases handled by Khundkaryan were challenged at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and in all 13 cases, the Court ruled against  Armenia. As a result of the rulings, the Armenian government was obliged to pay nearly  €312,000 ($370,000) in compensation. 

Not counting abstentions, Khundkaryan received 84 votes in favour and only 2 against.


Long-running conflict

The election of new judges to the Constitutional Court is only the latest development in a year-long drama between Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and the country’s highest judicial body. 

Since October 2019, the country’s ruling authorities have tried to force out members of the Constitutional Court, particularly the court’s former head, Hrayr Tovmasyan. The overwhelming majority of members on the court were appointed before the 2018 revolution that swept Pashinyan to power.

In October 2019, Armenia’s parliament voted to revoke the powers of Tovmasyan claiming he was compromised due to alleged, improper connections with the country’s pre-revolutionary government. 

The Constitutional Court subsequently vetoed the move, and Tovmasyan remained as chair. 

Exit strategy

In December 2019, the parliament voted in favour of a bill which would grant generous retirement packages to judges who chose to step down voluntarily before 31 January 2020 —  a monthly compensation equivalent to the current wage until their term was foreseen to end. 

Seven of the nine members of the court were serving based on rules established prior to the 2015 constitutional amendments, under which they can serve until the age of 65 or 70. Those appointed after April 2018 — when the 2015 amendments came into force — can only serve one twelve-year term.  

However, no judge chose to retire early.

On 22 June, the parliament passed a bill that removed three judges from the Constitutional Court who had served at least 12 years and also removed Tovmasyan from his position as chair though he still remains on the Court. 

[Read more on OC Media: Armenian parliament votes to remove three judges from Constitutional Court]