PACE, Venice Commission call for resolution to Armenian Constitutional Court drama
The conflict surrounding the head of the Armenian Constitutional Court and the government has made its way to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission, both of which are calling for a resolution to the issue that has gone on for several months.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan says the current head of the Constitutional Court, Hrayr Tovmasyan, is an associate of the past authorities that relinquished control during the Velvet Revolution of spring 2018, and that he is thus incapable of making fair and unbiased decisions.
The Armenian authorities have been looking for methods to legally dismiss the chairman of the Constitutional Court, but to no avail.
PACE and Venice Commission weigh in
Gianni Buquicchio, President of the Council of Europe Venice Commission, made a statement for the first time in October 2019, and called for “restraint in order to alleviate this alarming situation and resume the normal functioning of the Armenian constitution.”
On February 3, Buquicchio again stated that he was “concerned about the open conflict around the Constitutional Court of Armenia.”
“Recent public statements and actions … will not help ease tensions. Democratic culture and maturity require government institutions to show institutional restraint, goodwill and mutual respect. Once again, I urge all parties … to resolve this alarming situation in order to ensure the normal implementation of the Armenian constitution.”
Conflict between the PM and head of the Constitutional Court
At the end of January 2020, PM Pashinyan publicly stated that Tovmasyan had ‘flattered him’ and offered his professional ‘services’ to the new government, pointing out problems in the constitution which he himself wrote in for the former authorities.
The head of the Constitutional Court reacted harshly to the prime minister’s statements, and threatened to sue Pashinyan for libel if the prime minister were unable to provide evidence of this allegation within 20 days, unless he made a public rebuttal.
There have been several attempts to have Tovmasyan removed from power.
In October 2019, the Armenian parliament appealed to the Constitutional Court to terminate the powers of the chairman, however the court refused to consider the appeal of the National Assembly on the grounds that it “did not comply with the established rules”.
After that, the ruling party offered members of the court to retire early and in exchange receive the equivalent of their monthly salary – more than $2,000 – as a lifelong pension, which was accepted by most judges, with the exception of Tovmasyan.
At the end of December 2019 Tovmasyan was charged with “abuse of power, which inadvertently led to grave consequences” for actions committed during his tenure as Minister of Justice (2010-2014). He rejects the allegations against him.