These days, the National Assembly of Armenia is again trying to address the continuing crisis related to the Constitutional Court, which has been going on for months with no solution in sight. On the agenda was a bill presented by the Minister of Justice that will give members of the Court an opportunity to voluntarily submit their resignation, while continuing to receive their full salaries and other benefits until the end of their terms.
Extra-parliamentary and parliamentary opposition forces are opposed to the proposed new legislation, each approaching the issue from their own perspectives. Politicians representing the previous regime are arguing that this is an encroachment on the independence of the Court and an effort to take the Court under the full control of the government. The two parliamentary opposition parties, “Prosperous Armenia” and “Enlightened Armenia,” were also opposed to the bill. Their objection is centered around the issue of the Constitutional Court judges potentially receiving large sums of taxpayer money for many years without working.
The majority in the Parliament, represented by the “My Step” faction, support the view that seven out of nine members of the current Constitutional Court have been appointed by the previous authorities and thus, lack legitimacy in the eyes of the public at large. They argue that the judicial system needs to be reformed, to be in line with the vision of the “New Armenia,” and these changes should start from the top.
The parliamentary majority was able to impose its will and the bill was approved after long and heated debates. The issue however, does not end there. Court members may not take advantage of this opportunity and refuse to leave voluntarily through this “open window.” In that case, it is not clear what other solutions the authorities have in their arsenal and what other steps can be taken, short of constitutional amendments.
The revolutionary authorities of Armenia had no difficulty in taking full control of the executive and legislative powers in a short span of time, mainly relying on the confidence they enjoyed by the large majority of the public. They were able to implement their plans and reforms very quickly, moving the country slowly, but steadily forward. As far as the judiciary is concerned, the picture is quite different and the question of introducing a new quality into the system has become difficult to achieve. The much talked about “good behavior vetting program” for judges, remains pending. Likewise, the recommendations for the creation of transitional courts is moving very slowly.
The lack of confidence in the courts has been and continues to be one of the most vulnerable aspects of Armenia. This also has a negative impact on the development of the economy and the improvement of the investment environment. Often, the courts appear paralyzed and unable to make timely decisions. One of the best examples is the trial of the former president Robert Kocharian. The defendant’s highly paid lawyers, using a variety of legal maneuvers, have been able to delay the launch of the main trial and interrogation of witnesses for months. In the process, the court sessions, on many occasions, were turned into a circus where opposing sides were yelling and shouting at one another.
The responsibility of the current state of the judiciary falls on the shoulders of the revolutionary government, which until now, failed to take swift and decisive steps in furtherance of its goals of reforming the legal system of Armenia.