The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Armenia

The crisis surrounding the Constitutional Court of Armenia continues to be the most pressing political issue in the country. Following the announcements made by the newly-elected Constitutional Court judge Vahe Krikoryan, on the legitimacy of the seven members of the Court, who were appointed before the new constitution went into effect, in April 2018. A heated debate is ensuing about the fate of the Constitutional Court, among legal experts and politicians alike, who represent the two main factions in the country.

According to the pro-government side, the current Court does not represent the new political realities which exist after last year’s popular revolution, nor it complies with the requirements and the spirit of the new constitution. The lack of confidence within large segments of the Armenian society regarding the judicial system in general and the Constitutional Court in particular, makes it in need of urgent reforms. According to the other side, mainly composed of the remnants of the old regime, the Court continues to be legitimate and any encroachments in its affairs will be considered a violation of the constitutional order.

On the other hand there are steps which are being taken by the Court itself and its president Hrayr Tovmasyan, which are further deepening the crisis and discrediting the power of the Court. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who for a while kept silence on the crisis, during a recent interview with RFE/RL, told the nation that he was shocked by reading the open letter of Judge Vahe Krikoryan. At the same time Pashinyan admitted that, during the revolution, being concentrated on the political situation around Serzh Sargsyan, they did not notice the manipulations which were taking place with the Constitutional Court, as a result of which the old members of the Court will be able to continue for life and the President of the Court will stay in office until 2035, thus making the term limit and other reforms envisioned by the new constitution meaningless. At first, Hrayr Tovmasyan refused to give his opinion on Pashinyan’s pronouncements, telling the reporters that he only discusses legal matters and does not reply to political questions. He characterized the Prime Minister’s words as political in nature. But, a day later Tovmasyan gave a long interview to one of the opposition media outlets and tried to explain that there was no crisis and the Court is functioning in a normal fashion. In Tovmasyan’s opinion the government should stop pressuring the Constitutional Court, without touching upon many questions raised by Pashinyan.

There were also recent decisions by the Court, mainly related to the former president Robert Kocharyan’s trial, which showed ambiguity and lack of determination, further damaging its reputation. The Constitutional Court first decided to hear the case referred to it by Yerevan Court of General Jurisdiction on the issue of immunity for former presidents. Then it decided to return the case back to the lower court. When the lower court again appealed to the Constitutional Court, this time it was decided to hear the case and a date was set for August 20th. But, one week later, the Court had a different opinion and decided to suspended the appeal process and send the case to the European Court of Human Rights and the Venice Commission for their legal opinions.

These contradictory steps further discredits Constitutional Court and comes to prove that it is in a state of disarray. In its current composition the Court is unable to carry out its duties and restore the confidence of the people in the highest court in the nation. On the other hand, the government, as of yet, does not have a clear plan to get out of this crisis. After the summer vacations, a path for resolution of this matter may appear in the form of constitutional amendments or a new constitution.

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