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Cyprus

House seeks to stamp out legal aid irregularities

Jst eight lawyers (law firms) have been assigned two-thirds of the €1 million legal aid budget

By Angelos Anastasiou

THE House watchdog committee affirmed its determination to legislate against the collusion between law firms and investigating authorities with regard to assigning state legal assistance on Tuesday.

According to committee chairman and DISY MP, Giorgos Georgiou the Cyprus Bar Association’s president reported a ring of lawyers that has access to all police directorates, interrogation offices, the CID and the minor offences department, which uses friendly or family relationships to ensure that certain law firms are systematically chosen to represent foreigners, netting said law firms tens of thousands of euros annually.

“There is no other way to explain the fact that the list that was presented to the committee lists only 900 lawyers as having been assigned legal representation cases over the last few years, of whom a maximum of eight have been assigned two-thirds of the €1 million budget,” he said.

Georgiou said the constitution validates every citizen’s right to state-offered legal representation, as well as the choice of lawyer.

The committee discussed the procedure under which said representation is offered, and will soon propose amendments to the legislation.

According to Georgiou, Cyprus spends an average of one euro per resident on state-offered legal representation, which is low compared to the rest of Europe – where the average spend is €7 per resident – and will thus need to be increased.

Additionally, Georgiou said lawyers who have been compensated to the tune of tens of thousands of euros for state-offered legal representations do not submit tax invoices, resulting in tax evasion.

AKEL MP Irini Charalambidou said that two law firms in Limassol shared €125,000 out of the total €400,000 that is the Limassol budget, a stat corroborated by the Auditor General.

Charalambidou also said two lawyers, over the last six years, were paid €460,000 for state-offered legal representation cases, but when their tax returns were checked by the Internal Revenue Department, it was identified that these returns did not match the pair’s stated income.

The issue, she added, has been forwarded to the government’s Law Office.

Additionally, incidents of lawyers requesting unnecessary adjournments during trials in order to increase their compensation were also reported.

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