HAPLESS home buyers are filing up to 50 complaints a month to the Advocates Disciplinary Board against allegedly corrupt lawyers, it emerged this week.
According to board member and Cyprus Bar Association (CBA) president Doros Ioannides, the majority of these complaints are filed by British expats against Paphos-based property lawyers – and mostly involve developers.
The rate of applications has become so unmanageable that, according to one scam victim, one such lawyer has even racked up more than 25 complaints over the past two years without a single judgement against her.
So what is going on at the Advocates Disciplinary Board?
According to Ioannides, the glut of applications has followed the landmark Supreme Court ruling against Paphos lawyer Nicos Papacleovoulou in April 2010, who negligently carried out his duties on behalf of a British couple in a property transaction in 1999.
Since then, he said, “many” lawyers have been disciplined by the board according to Ioannides, although he declined to give a precise figure.
The Papacleovoulou case was also the first in which a lawyer agreed to represent clients suing another lawyer in Cyprus, and it appears to have opened the floodgates to hundreds of hopeful property buyers seeking justice, compensation or Title Deeds.
“We have been receiving around 50 (complaints) a month. Most are foreigners, and most of those are British… we have many problems with developers from Paphos,” Ioannides said.
Unfortunately, the response has overwhelmed the seven-man disciplinary board; composed of attorney-general Petros Clerides, Ioannides and five other members, each with more than 15 years of practice, and there is now a huge backlog of applications Ioannides does not expect to clear until September or October.
It is a source of frustration for many complainants who have to wait in line irrespective of the scale or blatancy of the lawyers’ wrongdoing, especially since the alternative – to sue lawyers directly in court – is all but impossible due to the hefty costs and general reluctance among lawyers to go against their colleagues in court.
Only with the disciplinary board – and therefore the attorney general’s implicit backing – is a case like Papakleovoulou likely to be taken up by a legal office and pursued through the courts.
One hapless British expat in Paphos, who is taking action against his former lawyer after he learned she is the sister of the developer that was building his house, faced exactly this dilemma recently.
After taking his money and stalling on the construction of the house for several years, the expat only learned of the siblings’ relationship when a subcontractor tipped him off in 2009.
After six months of waiting for the CBA to act, he said this week: “I am very annoyed that the Cyprus Bar Association is not acting against these rogue lawyers. It seems to me the CBA is a brick wall.”
So, what, aside from having only seven part-time members is causing the delay?
In many cases, it seems to be the lawyers themselves: once a complainant has paid his €68 administrative fee, his complaint is sent on to the lawyer for their comments.
In several calls to the CBA to follow-up on his complaint, filed in January, the above mentioned expat was told that the lawyer simply had not replied to the board’s request for comments.
“This has been an enormous travesty of justice,” he said, adding: “if this was happening in the UK, that lawyer would have been suspended.”
Asked what would happen if a lawyer refuses to reply to the request for comments, Ioannides said they can proceed straight to trial.
In practice this does not always happen. For example, another Paphos lawyer – who reportedly has over 25 complaints against her for such misdemeanours as colluding with developers and forging clients’ signatures – simply called in sick ahead of her hearing, which was postponed. One such complaint was filed more than two years ago, but the hearing did not take place until June this year.
The Cyprus Mail was unable to obtain details of the remaining 24 cases against her.
The board has the authority to strike off, suspend or fine a lawyer up to €1,000, if, in their view, the lawyer is guilty of moral turpitude, disgraceful, fraudulent or unprofessional conduct. In practice, this process presents another opportunity for lawyers to stall the process.
Come September, if Ioannides’ assessment of his association’s ability to turn around cases is accurate, Cyprus could begin to see lawyers behind the bar – or even bars.