Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has called for a radical reform of the country's judiciary -- contending that many courts have lost their legitimacy and too many judges are beholden to the country's former authorities.
Pashinian said in a speech at a conference attended by Armenia's military, judicial, and political leaders on May 20 that while the country had formed legitimate executive and legislative branches of power in the last year, the judicial system remained under the influence of the former "corrupt government."
He described his plan for judicial reform as the "second phase" of the bloodless revolution that swept him to power a year ago.
Pashinian said that all judges whose rulings were found unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights must be dismissed and that he was willing to consider constitutional amendments to bring about the necessary reforms.
"The time has come for a surgical intervention," he said, a day after calling on citizens to block the entrance to courts to protest the release from custody of bitter foe and former President Robert Kocharian, who is facing corruption and coup charges.
Pashinian, who came to power after leading a wave of nationwide protests last spring against longtime leader Serzh Sarkisian, said that all judges must now be subjected to a “vetting process” that will reveal whether they can serve as independent justices.
"I cannot and do not want to make judgments on the legality and validity of the decisions made by the judiciary. This is not within my powers…. Regardless, it's obvious that the decisions of the judiciary are deeply mistrusted by the people," he said.
"The people of Armenia still view the judicial authorities as a remnant of the former corrupt system where conspiracy is constantly being planned and implemented against the people," Pashinian said.
"To what extent this presumption is realistic and well-grounded, is another matter, but the fact that the judiciary doesn't have the trust of the people means that it also doesn't have an enough legitimacy to operate," he added.
Armenia's leading opposition forces have denounced the blockading of the courts, saying the move violates an article of the constitution that bans any outside interference in the work of the judiciary.
“If [Pashinian] is politically disappointed with some people, he must not express that by exerting pressure on the courts and by disrupting and paralyzing the work of the courts,” Gevorg Petrosian, a senior representative of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest in parliament, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
The 64-year-old Kocharian went on trial earlier this month on charges of overthrowing the constitutional order during the final weeks of his decade-long rule, which ended in April 2008.
During the protests that erupted in March 2008, eight protesters and two police officers were killed after Kocharian sent in security forces to disperse the demonstration. Kocharian’s order came after he declared a three-week state of emergency.
Before serving as Armenia's president from 1998 to 2008, Kocharian was the leader of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenian-backed separatists seized control of the mainly Armenian-populated region from Azerbaijan during a war in the early 1990s that killed some 30,000 people, and diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have brought little progress.