On June 20, 2022, the Supreme Judicial Council in a closed session approved and presented to the National Assembly the list of candidates for promotion to be appointed judges in the Court of Cassation. Artur Davtyan, deputy of the “Civil Contract” faction of the National Assembly at that moment was also on the list.
On June 27, the National Assembly convened an extraordinary session, during which Davit Khachatryan, a member of the Supreme Judicial Council, presented one by one the candidates for promotion to be appointed judges in the Court of Cassation. Khachatryan listed all the candidates, after which, addressing the National Assembly, he said, “You have the conclusions of everyone’s integrity, I will briefly present everyone’s biographical data.”
At the time Artur Davtyan was nominated by the Supreme Judicial Council, he was a member of the National Assembly, and only on the day of the extraordinary session did Davtyan submit an application to withdraw from the parliamentary mandate. The public learned about it from the NA Speaker’s statement made on the same day.
On the next day of the session of the National Assembly, on June 28, Artur Davtyan was elected a judge of the Court of Cassation with 67 votes in favor, 0 against, and 0 abstentions.
It turns out that Artur Davtyan gave up his mandate on the very day of the session in order to become a judge of the Court of Cassation.
Prime Minister Pashinyan has often spoken about the reforms of the judicial system, the importance of the judicial system, which should be implemented through the qualitative change of judges. One of the key conditions for the independence of the judicial system is the political independence of judges, the exclusion of ties with political parties. “All the judges operating in Armenia should undergo, so to say, vetting. In other words, the public should have complete information about the judge’s political connections and genealogy, property status, activities carried out as a judge and in the previous period, personal and professional characteristics,” said Pashinyan in one of his speeches on the judicial system in May 2019.
In this case, Artur Davtyan was a representative of the ruling power of the National Assembly until the day before he was elected as a judge, which may give rise to reasonable doubts about his political impartiality and unbiasedness as a judge.
According to the Constitution, a judge cannot be a party member. Artur Davtyan, in addition to being a member of the National Assembly, was also a member of the “Civil Contract” party. The CC party informs Fact Investigation Platform that Davtyan stopped membership of the party on June 8 of this year, 20 days before becoming a judge.
In order to get an opinion on the issue, we turned to the Supreme Judicial Council and the Corruption Prevention Commission with an official inquiry. It should be noted that the candidates for judges undergo an integrity examination, the advisory conclusion of which is provided to the relevant bodies, in this case, to the Supreme Judicial Council and the National Assembly.
According to the Supreme Judicial Council, “everything is in order with Davtyan on paper”
We asked the acting chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council to provide information on several issues. In particular, whether they studied the fact of Artur Davtyan being a party member, whether they took into account the fact that he was a deputy of the ruling faction of the National Assembly at the time of being nominated. In response, the SJC cited several points of the law, which define who can become a judge of the Court of Cassation, from which it can be assumed that they took into account the fact that Artur Davtyan was a member of parliament and a former party member but since everything is in order on paper”, they have nominated him.
We have also asked the SJC whether the Council is not concerned that Artur Davtyan’s election as a judge will reduce public confidence in the judicial system, taking into account the political connections mentioned above. In response to this question, SJC again cited laws and did not clearly answer our question, which makes it difficult to understand their opinion on the issue, but they noted that they also took into account the advisory conclusion on integrity.
Doubts of the Corruption Prevention Commission have not been dispelled
The Corruption Prevention Commission informs that two members of the Integrity Commission voted in favor of issuing a positive conclusion with reservations about Davtyan, and the other two members voted for a negative conclusion. Since the votes of the members of the Commission were equally distributed, no final evaluation of the integrity of Artur Davtyan was provided.
The Corruption Prevention Commission reports that a person’s party affiliation is not considered a factor that has a negative impact on the evaluation of integrity as long as this fact does not raise suspicion of appointing him/her to that position as a result of “apparent patronage” in the eyes of an impartial observer.
However, according to the Commission, the combination of a number of facts and factors regarding Davtyan created such a situation that the doubts of the Commission of making a politicized decision in favor of the candidate were not dispelled, which in itself was a circumstance that had a negative impact on the integrity evaluation.
“Moreover, in the conditions when political factors should not be used during the election of a judge of the Court of Cassation and have any influence on decision-making, they should be adopted on the basis of objective and pre-defined criteria, free from any kind of political bias or any other influence,” reads the answer received from the Corruption Prevention Commission.
In fact, the Supreme Judicial Coucil says that it has taken into account the conclusion on integrity, however the conclusion of the CPC is not only not absolutely positive, but also due to the equal distribution of votes, no final conclusion was drawn on integrity of the person. In addition, the doubts of the Commission about making a politicized decision in favor of the candidate have not been dispelled
Thus, Artur Davtyan, deputy of the “Civil Contract” faction of the National Assembly, member of the “Civil Contract” party, terminated his membership in the party on June 8, became a candidate of judge of the Court of Cassation on June 22, gave up the NA mandate on June 27 and became a judge of the Court of Cassation with a ratio of 67 votes, 0 against, 0 abstentions although the doubts of making a politicized decision in favor of the candidate were not dispelled.