By Loucas Charalambous
THE APPEAL filed by district court judges against the legislation imposing wage cuts in the public sector and its upholding by nine judges of the Supreme Court, who also benefited from their decision was no surprise.
Judges are also members of Cyprus society. They are no different from our teachers, civil servants, deputies and bankers. It would have been a surprise if they had behaved differently from the rest, but they did not. The appeals and the decision, in the circumstances, were to be expected.
The substance is not the legalistic aspect of the issue, on which the Supreme Court based its decision. It is the moral example these people set by this behaviour, which is also a reflection of their education, in the broader sense of the word, and values.
At a time when private sector workers on incomes of €15,000 a year are contributing to our bankrupted state, the judges with salaries and tax-free allowances, in excess of €100,000 a year, found ‘legal points’ to keep their incomes intact.
This disgraceful behaviour becomes even more shameful when you consider that private sector workers do not even burden the state in contrast to the judges whose fat salaries are from state coffers – in other words, from the borrowed funds that caused the public debt to rocket to €16bn. Judges’ big salaries are part of the problem facing the country.
I cannot understand the position of the judges that for the legislation on the pay cuts to have been in compliance with the relevant article of the constitution, it had to be in the form of taxation and universally enforced. My humble opinion is that they are playing with words here. What else but taxation were these cuts, considering they were based on coefficients relating to the level of income?
I find ridiculous the other argument claiming that the relevant legislation was not universally enforced as it was “restricted to public and state employees”. The Supreme Court rejected the position of the attorney-general that there was a corresponding taxation of the private sector, through another piece of legislation, on the grounds that in the latter case the contribution was made by the employer. But this was the reasons that employers were made to contribute – so that the measures were universally applied.
The Supreme Court also said that the laws that were challenged “would have been regarded as taxation if they were such that they affected salaries indirectly and not directly through the direct deduction of an amount from the salary of the applicants.” It would appear that our judges are not aware of what direct taxes and indirect taxes are.
But if this is the case, then they should not pay income tax either, as this is the most direct tax that exists and a percentage is deducted from their salary every month.
In the end, the wise judges of the Supreme Court decided that the disputed laws “constitute impermissible, unfavourable change in the remuneration of judges in contravention of article 153.3 of the Constitution,” which “expresses the essential pre-condition of the broader principle of the independence and prestige of justice.”
But surely, the independence and prestige of justice must be safeguarded, primarily by the judges and not anyone else. This reminds me of an appeal, filed by journalist Alecos Constantinides, against a decision of the district court which the Supreme Court has been refusing, for 35 years now, to rule on. The reason for its refusal was that Constantinides had undermined the prestige of justice, because he had criticised the district court ruling that he subsequently appealed against.
Interestingly this weird decision, by which the applicant was being asked to restore the prestige of justice before his appeal was examined, was taken by Judge Giorgos Pikis, who is currently chairing the investigative committee for the collapse of the economy.
This is the standard of our Justice which is on the same level as that of our legislature, our unions, political parties and our banking. We should just accept that our judges are also Cypriots and will behave just like the rest of us.