THE LATEST chapter in the epic Orams case will unfold today when a Greek Cypriot refugee begins the appeals process against last year’s ruling by the British High Court that it could not force a British couple to return ownership of the property he abandoned during the 1974 invasion of Cyprus.
Melitis Apostolides’ case has returned to the UK courts after last April’s ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) stipulating that although the north was outside the jurisdiction of Cypriot courts, rulings made by Nicosia or the courts of any EU country were enforceable on those deemed to have broken the law in the north. Apostolides and his lawyers will today seek to have the earlier UK court ruling overturned.
“There is no precedent that the British court will ignore the advice of the ECJ,” Apostolides’ lawyer Constantis Candounas told the Cyprus Mail yesterday, adding that he was “very optimistic” of a win for his client.
Candounas’ confidence is boosted by the fact that it was the British court that last year asked the ECJ to advise it on how to proceed with the Orams-Apostolides case.
Linda and David Orams purchased Apostolides’ family home from a Turkish Cypriot who said he had received it as “compensation for lost land in the south” from the authorities in the north, however such a form of compensation is not recognised by any international court.
If the British Appeals Court does indeed heed the advice of the ECJ, the Orams face having to hand back the property to Apostolides, or possibly face the confiscation of their family home in Sussex to pay the Greek Cypriot refugee. They will also have to pay extensive punitive damages and court expenses that are believed to have exceeded €1 million.
The Orams case began in 2005 when the British couple was handed a summons from Apostolides’ lawyer demanding that they appear in court in Nicosia to answer accusations of trespassing on Apostolides’ property.
At first they failed to appear in the Nicosia court but attended a later hearing, where judges ordered the Orams to demolish the house they had built on Apostolides’ land and pay him punitive damages and rent.
The British couple ignored the ruling, feeling themselves to be safe from the court’s jurisdiction north of the Green Line. Apostolides, enacting EU law, then sought to have the Nicosia ruling enforced by the British courts.
To his surprise the British court prevaricated, saying it was not sure if it could intervene using EU law in a territory that was effectively outside the control and jurisdiction of any EU court.
It then asked the ECJ for advice, which it delivered in April saying EU courts, including those in Cyprus, could rule on legal matters that had taken place in the north. It now remains to be seen whether the Appeals Court will adhere to the advice it asked for earlier in the year.
Today, the Orams will be defending their claim on the Lapithos property by saying their case has wider political implications for Cyprus that can only be solved through a negotiated settlement of the property issue as a whole.
Indeed, the Turkish Cypriot side has long argued that legal action taken by individuals in the south against individuals in the north creates a negative climate that badly affects negotiations for a settlement.
Apostolides’ lawyer Candounas meanwhile maintains that forcing those in the north to recognise the legal implications of buying abandoned Greek Cypriot properties can only help negotiations. Earlier, he criticised those who sought to link the issue with ongoing peace negotiations saying, “This is a legal judgment. I don’t believe it will have any impact on negotiations whatsoever.”
The stark legality of the case will not however prevent a group of Turkish Cypriots calling themselves Embargoed! from protesting outside the court. A spokesperson from the group Ipek Ozerim said that while they respected the rights of Apostolides, they felt the rights of Turkish Cypriots had been ignored.
“Apostolides has his rights, but he should not get them at the expense of others,” Ozerim said.
She added that Embargoed! and many others, particularly in Britain’s Turkish Cypriot community, regretted the way the Orams couple had been demonised by the media, both in Cyprus and in the UK.
“They have been portrayed as thieves and used as scapegoats,” she said.
© Cyprus Mail 2009