The National Assembly deliberated on the amendments to the Law on Constitutional Changes and other related regulations in a second hearing and voted in favor of the package in its entirety. Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia parties boycotted the hearings calling the move as unconstitutional.
On June 24, President Armen Sargsyan approved the amendments and regulations.
According to the new regulations, the controversial transitional provision of the 2015 Constitution is not valid and a constitutional judge can be elected for 12 years and only once in a lifetime. The tenure of those judges that have been in service for more than 12 years will be terminated. All those members of the Constitutional Court who have served less than 12 years, will continue tenure until end of term.
Hrayr Tovmasyan is no longer Chairman of the Constitutional court as his appointment until 2037 was an abuse of the Constitutional amendments in 2015. New elections of Chairmanship will be organized after the vacant seats of the judges are filled. The Chairperson will serve only for 6 years. Hrayr Tovmasyan will continue to act as a Judge of the Constitutional Court.
In effect, the Parliament has stripped away all the privileges that were inserted in Article 213, a transitional provision related to changes of the Constitutional Court of Armenia in the Constitutional of 2015. While the unpopular “overhaul” of the Constitution in 2015, held under a disguise of fair and transparent “referendum” envisaged changes for the terms of the Constitutional Court’s judges and Chairman (former Constitution allowed for almost lifetime terms of judges), the transitional provisions allowed to overpass the new Constitution’s requirements for a 6-year term for Chairmanship and 12-year tenure for judges and enacted the full implementation of new changes after April 9, 2018. These transitional provisions allowed for Hrayr Tovmasyan, author of the Constitutional changes, and other judges, take office before April 9, 2018 until they would be 65 years old, effectively until 2037 in the case of Tovmasyan and various years for the other judges counting almost towards lifetime tenures. As a former Minister of Justice, MP and politician, Tovmasyan is known to be the mastermind of the 2015 Constitution and an ally to the ousted regime of Armenia. His tenure, as well as those of other Constitutional Court judges appointed before 2018, are deemed to be a bottleneck in the reform processes promised after the Velvet Revolution.
Hrayr Tovmasyan called the process unconstitutional, because any change to the Law on Constitutional Changes (Constitution) must be first sent to the Constitutional Court. The Court, according to him, has not received such a document.
In the meanwhile, the Venice Committee has recommended the Armenian authorities to envisage a transitional period before judges who have been in tenure for more than 12 years vacate their seats. No such transition seems to be envisaged under the current package of regulations.
In retaliation, the Constitutional Court has decided to revisit the claim presented by Robert Kocharyan’s lawyers regarding Article 301 of the Constitution (including former Constitution) on President’s immunity. Kocharyan is currently charged for overthrowing the constitutional order in 2008 and does not enjoy immunity for the charges brought against him.
In the meanwhile, civil society representatives have released strong statements in support of the move to overcome the constitutional court impasse, however expect more from the current authorities. Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor, Transparency International anti-corruption center, “Asparez” Journalists’ club, Center for Globalization and Regional Partnership call on the authorities to adopt political assessments of the past usurpation of power and enact mechanisms for effective transitional justice, including vetting of the law enforcement bodies.
The organizations emphasize that the in the absence of a political and legal assessment of usurpation of the state, the former authorities and those serving them not only evade responsibility for having inflicted damages to the national security, economy and foreign policy as a result of usurping power, but now have new opportunities to conceal crimes of overthrowing the constitutional order and crimes against the state. They hide behind the mask of “an opposition” and complain of “political repressions” but in reality these entities are now uniting with the hope to return to power by usurping it again with the help of many remnants of the old regime in various institutions that are aiding them now, claim the signatories.
They also point out that the Constitutional Court of Armenia has demonstrated many times that it is able to impede justice by recognizing all those legal channels that potentially threaten the immunity of former officials and their property as anti-constitutional, by opposing reforms in the justice system and impeding removal of the criminal oligarchic system from politics. Therefore the current government needs to be strategic about giving life to the promises of the 2018 Revolution and not be satisfied with short-term solutions, such as the move in the parliament regarding the Constitutional Court.