FOLLOWERS of the news in Cyprus will not have missed the many questions being raised about the Cyprus justice system, including allegations of cronyism, impartiality, complicity and corruption.
Just over a year ago lawyer Nicos Clerides remarked on Facebook “Our courts are controlled by the Polyviou and Chrysafinis law firm. There is not a single Supreme Court judge who does not have a child at the law office that promotes the banks’ interests.” His remarks were in connection with three criminal cases judged in favour of the Bank of Cyprus following appeals to the island’s Supreme Court.
In a lengthy statement Attorney-General Costas Clerides stressed that his brother’s views were his own, and that there had been no collusion between them in terms of coordinating their public remarks.
Referring to the Supreme Court’s final judgment in the market manipulation case filed against the Bank of Cyprus, the Attorney-General noted that “three of the five judges on the appeals court have children or a spouse who are employed at the law firm representing the Bank and its officer in the appeals process.”
(A full report on the above is available in the Cyprus Mail.)
We understand that following these ‘incidents’ Greco (the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body) took the unprecedented step of visiting Cyprus to investigate and make recommendations designed to improve the system.
Speaking to Kathimerini in February 2019 Attorney-General Costas Clerides said that the proposed reforms to the Cypriot Justice system should be implemented immediately and that: ”No one has said that children or other relatives of judges should not work in law firms. No one has said that they should not work in influential firms or in any particular firm. However, when the time comes for a judge to hear a major case and before him appears the employer of his child, then the judge, if not ex-officio, should apply rigorously the principles laid down by the ECHR in the relevant decisions.”
Recent cases involving foreigners have also raised questions about the Cyprus justice system. Most notably the British teenager convicted of lying over being gang raped in Ayia Napa last July and, more recently, British man Conor O’Dwyer and his 15-year quest for justice whose appeal was heard by the Supreme Court several days ago. The former case received huge publicity in both the Cyprus and UK media with protests and demonstrations supporting the teenager organised in both countries.
Just two days ago Maria Hadjisavva of the law firm Elias Neocleous & Co LLC in an article entitled Justice delayed is justice denied referred to cases where the human rights of victims had been violated and a case that took the police 15 years to investigate. The latter resulted in the wrath of the European Court of Human Rights, which condemned Cyprus for breaching of Articles 2, 4 and 5 of the Human Rights Convention.
Although the Cyprus justice system is undergoing reform, but these focus mainly on the speed at which cases are dealt with by the courts rather than addressing the fundamental reforms to do away with the alleged cronyism, impartiality, complicity and corruption.
Damning indictment of the Cyprus justice system
Recently, lawyers in Limassol were asked to give their honest opinions on the quality of the justice system on a questionnaire.
- 95% believed that the rule of law did not apply in Cyprus.
- 96% believed that the Cyprus justice system is in need of radical reform.
- 97% believed that Supreme Court judges need to be trained.
- 93% believed that some lawyers are treated by the Supreme Court in a privileged manner.
- 90% believed that there are some Supreme court judges who are not law-abiding, professional or ethical.
The answers given by the 138 of the 139 lawyers who completed and returned the questionnaire (below) present a devastating indictment of the state of the Cyprus justice system.
|1||Do you believe that we live in a country where the rule of law applies?||6||131||1|
|2||Do you think that the way in which justice is delivered in Cyprus requires radical reforms?||133||5||–|
|3||Do you think that the appointment of judges is fair and transparent?||3||129||4|
|4||Do you think that the Cyprus courts decide on cases brought before them strictly on the basis of the issues in question and the law?||10||120||5|
|5||Do you think there are judges who decide the cases brought before them beforehand?||123||2||10|
|6||Do you believe that the decisions taken by judges are influenced by extrinsic factors?||126||2||10|
|7||Do you believe that the Supreme Court has sufficient jurisdiction over the lower courts?||18||114||6|
|8||Do you believe that the decisions of the Supreme Court are influenced by the relationships maintained by Supreme Court judges with lower court judges?||111||10||17|
|9||Do you think that Supreme Court judges are all law-abiding, professional and ethical?||4||124||10|
|10||Do you think there are judges of the Supreme Court who should be removed from their position?||77||9||36|
|11||Do you think the manner in which Supreme Court judges are appointed and dismissed is correct?||2||125||10|
|12||Do you think that lawyers should have a say in the appointment and removal of the judges of the Supreme Court and of the lower courts?||90||36||10|
|13||Do you think that the judges of the Supreme Court need training themselves?||134||1||2|
|14||Do you think that the Supreme Court’s status according to which their decisions are not subject to review leads to arbitrariness?||132||2||3|
|15||Do you think Cyprus needs at least a Higher Court?||111||14||8|
|16||Do you believe that the High Court should be staffed by the present judges of the Supreme Court?||9||108||20|
|17||Do you think the promotions given to lower judges is based on merit?||4||123||10|
|18||Do you think there are lawyers who are treated by the Supreme Court in a privileged manner?||129||2||6|
|19||Do you think that the Cyprus Bar Association and local law associations are effectively assisting in tackling the problems faced by the justice system?||3||131||3|
|20||Do you think that lawyers are respected by judges?||13||113||10|
|21||Do you believe that the exercise of good law practice affects the outcome of cases?||63||61||12|
|22||Do you believe that mitigating factors are properly taken into consideration by the courts?||22||85||27|
|23||Do you think that Cyprus courts are effectively enforcing and safeguarding the human rights of citizens?||7||119||11|
|24||Do you think that the Supreme Court takes due account of lawyers’ suggestions and pleadings?||4||120||13|
|25||Do you believe that as things stand today, it is possible to effect substantial changes in the manner in which the courts are operating?||40||79||18|
I have spoken with the lawyer referred to in the originating article published in the Greek language ‘Politis‘ on 26th January, London-born Evangelos Pourgourides.
Mr Pourgourides collated the replies and wrote to President Nicos Anastasiades and the president of the Supreme Court advising them both of the analysis of the questionnaire responses, but has yet to receive a reply.
From the answers given, it is clear that problems with the Cyprus justice systems are deep-rooted and intractable and cannot easily be resolved without radical reforms.
Of course, it’s quite possible that lawyers in Nicosia, Paphos, Larnaca and Famagusta have a different opinion of the justice system, but it seems unlikely.