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Cyprus justice subverted by corruption

Cyprus justice subverted by corruption

Paphos District Court

CORRUPTION has crept into the island’s justice system, negatively affecting the level of court decisions, a former top judge has charged, casting more doubt over certain decisions, even those issued at the highest echelons of the justice system.

“The decline of Cypriot justice is also due to the decline in values and principles and proper dispensation of justice, which have been bent in recent years and have been displaced by corruption, part of which seems to have already touched the judicial family,” former ECHR judge Loukis Loukaides told a conference on the problems of Cypriot justice.

Loukaides said it was widely accepted that applied judicial justice was going through a crisis in the past decade and that its performance was largely inadequate.

He said the judiciary was lacking knowledge, impartiality, and self-awareness.

“These problems stem from the fact that judges are appointed without strict tests of their knowledge, experience, and personality,” he said.

Most of the legal minds in Cyprus were trained in Greece, whose system may be exceptional, but unrelated to what is in force in Cyprus, where English Common Law covers a substantive part.

“The unavoidable outcome is a drop in the quality of court decisions,” he said. “The lack of criticism and in general the lack of judge accountability certainly has an adverse effect on the quality of the judicial mission.”

Attorney Achilleas Emilianides spoke about the delays in the dispensation of justice by Cypriot courts where civil cases take on average five years to finish.

This, he said, encourages the operation of an extrajudicial system, where people resort to in a bid to collect what is owed to them.

“This is the reality,” he said. “When people come and you explain to them that it would take six years for a trial, they tell you, ‘It will take two minutes to get 60 per cent or 70 per cent and settle’.”

“There is no doubt this system encourages extrajudicial rings, it encourages corruption, it encourages a system that we cannot be proud of, and it all starts by the fact that there is no effective justice due to delays,” Emilianides said.

One high-profile case, which caused a stir, was that of former health minister Ntina Akkelidou.

Akkelidou was found guilty of interfering with the course of justice in 2004, but was later acquitted by a majority decision of the Supreme Court, prompting the resignation of then attorney-general Solon Nikitas.

Akkelidou had sent a letter to a district judge in connection with a drugs case the judge was trying at the time. She was fined £1,000 and resigned her post.

In April 2005, The Supreme Court overturned the decision by 9 to 3, with Nikitas, arguably one of the best attorney-generals this island has seen, saying there was no meaning in continuing.

“I have never commented on a Supreme Court decision. However, this case cannot go unnoticed. It is closely linked with the administration of justice, the principles of the rule of law and the democratic principle of separation of power. It also has to do with the existence, the maintenance, and the quality of institutions in a free and democratic society,” he had said in a written statement.