Venice Commission concerned over Armenian high court dispute

Gianni Buquicchio, the president of the Venice Commission, an advisory body to the Council of Europe, has called on Armenia’s public institutions “to exercise restraint, mutual respect and constructive institutional cooperation” in order to deescalate an “open conflict” relating to Hrayr Tovmasyan, the chairman of the Armenian Constitutional Court.

“All state institutions and office holders have to respect their own prerogatives, obligations and competences and acknowledge and respect those of the other institutions,” Mr Buquicchio said in a statement, adding that, “if this is not done, if there lacks democratic culture and maturity, the functioning of the state institutions is compromised and the democratic, civil and economic progress of the society is jeopardised.”

RFE/RL’s Armenian service has reported that the statement came shortly afterthe  Armenian authorities claimed to have information about what they described as Mr Tovmasyan’s “direct participation in apparent crimes” during his earlier tenure as justice minister. The announcement of the authorities followed the Constitutional Court’s rejection of a demand from the Armenian parliament to replace its chairman.

Mr Tovmasyan has been criticised for “maintaining ties” with the members of Armenia’s previous government that was swept by the so-called Velvet Revolution last year, led by Nikol Pashinyan, who then became the country’s prime minister.

Reacting to the Venice Commission’s statement, Armenia’s justice minister, Rustam Badayan, told reporters that they would consider it, but did not deny that the government wanted Mr Tovmasyan to resign.

In June, the Armenian PM vowed to reform the country’s judiciary by introducing a vetting system to remove politically-biased judges. This followed a court decision to release former Armenian president Robert Kocharyan, who was accused of ordering deadly reprisals against protesters during an anti-government rally in 2008.

“The quick succession and mediatisation of recent events do not contribute to a serene settlement of the problems,” Mr Buquicchio’s statement said on October 29.

While the Venice Commission mostly praised the reforms, the organisation earlier this month remained critical about the government’s plan regarding the early retirement of judges, arguing that it can be done only on a voluntary basis.

“It would be unacceptable if each new government could replace sitting judges with newly elected ones of their choice,” the commission said.

For his part, Mr Tovmasyan also welcomed the commission’s statement.

Photo: OC Media