THE CYPRUS BAR Association has decided to advise its members on the broader range of duties placed on legal practitioners following last month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling on legal negligence.
The Supreme Court awarded a British couple around €120,000 in compensation as a result of their Paphos lawyer’s negligence in a property case, marking a first in Cyprus.
Head of the Bar Association, Doros Ioannides, told the Sunday Mail yesterday that the landmark case was discussed during last Thursday’s monthly board meeting.
“We discussed what are the liabilities and extra duties of lawyers arising from the judgement from a legal point of view and also how to advise lawyers,” said Ioannides.
“We agreed to explain to lawyers the decision and what obligations, undertakings, liabilities arise as a result regarding out of court activities,” he said, noting that this involved all practices, not just property transactions.
Ioannides acknowledged that the Supreme Court decision widened the responsibilities and liabilities of lawyers.
“It’s a decision which puts some guidelines down so a lawyer has to be careful towards his client. What we will give is not binding, just advice.”
Ioannides noted that as of January 1, 2010, all lawyers are obliged to take professional indemnity or else they can not renew their practising lawyer’s licence.
“If a client wants to get compensation they can either go to court or sort it out with the insurance company in an out-of-court settlement.”
Asked whether he agreed with the court decision, he replied: “I don’t disagree with the decision as a whole. There is professional negligence in every profession, whether you are a doctor, lawyer or driver.”
The decision is likely to have sent alarm bells ringing among those lawyers who may have been following unsafe practices, particularly on property issues.
The British couple involved in the landmark case sued their Paphos lawyer Nicos Papacleovoulou for negligently handling a property contract in 1999, which led to them losing a significant amount of money while never receiving the property.
The lawyer had failed to inform the couple that the property had been twice mortgaged and had a charge registered against it. The developer who signed the contract subsequently went bankrupt and never finished the house.
Following an 11-year pursuit of justice, which cost them their relationship and the man’s health, the British couple finally had their day in court last month when the top judges ordered the lawyer to pay full compensation to the couple for money lost as a result of his negligence.
The couple’s Nicosia-based lawyer, Nicholas Georghiades, the first lawyer in Cyprus to take on a colleague in a negligence case, described the ruling as “outstanding” and “the best case scenario” since “it set a very good precedent, fully explaining a lawyer’s duties”.
It was the first case of a lawyer’s negligence in Cyprus and the first time that the top court chose to lay out the duties and obligations of a lawyer vis-a-vis their clients, providing the basis for any future case against negligent lawyers, particularly on title deeds.
Speaking after the ruling, Georghiades explained there was no previous case law in Cyprus, meaning he had to rely on English authorities that might not necessarily be adopted. “In England, the law society has special rules on conveyancing practice. There’s no such thing in Cyprus,” he said.