Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

Laws from a bygone age

No matter the outstanding debt that donkey cannot be taken away

By Constantinos Psillides

IN CASE you missed it over the last three weeks, Accept-LGBT Cyprus head Costas Gavrielides got into hot water with the police, after two citizens lodged a complaint against a photography exhibition at the Nicosia Municipal Market, featuring pictures of naked men.

Police seized the pictures and took the exhibition down, charging Gavrielides – since Accept was the one organising the event – with publicly displaying lewd content.

While the Attorney-General Costas Clerides decided on Friday that no one would face charges, the police were not wholly to blame on this occasion. The officer in charge was merely acting based on legislation drafted back in 1963 that nobody ever bothered to amend. The ombudsperson Eliza Savvidou scolded the police in her report and went on to ask the House of Representatives to repeal the archaic law and modernise legislation concerning artistic expression.

The lewd content law is just one of many pieces of Cyprus legislation that is outdated and out of touch. A quick trawl through Cyprus legislation at cylaw.org, the Cyprus Bar Association official website, reveals some downright hilarious and bizarre laws still on the statute books.

For example, do you happen to be a farmer and in financial trouble? Do you worry the Man will come around and seize your mobile assets leaving you with no means of transport or to plough your fields? Fret not, for a law dating back to colonial times and adopted by the republic after independence in 1960 was there to protect you. Your creditors could take what they want, but they were required to at least leave you with a pair of oxen to plough your field and a donkey to move around on.

Sadly, this lovely piece of legislation is no more. Finally realising the ridiculousness of this provision the House abolished it – a mere six months ago.

Perhaps you gals have long harboured the desire to be employed in a subterranean work environment? Perhaps you have gazed upon a pickaxe and felt the sudden urge to go and dig up a mine? Well, you can, provided that you don’t do so at night. Another piece of ancient legislation strictly forbids women from working at a mine after dark.

It won’t surprise anyone to know that it is illegal to go around with counterfeit money or the tools to produce it.

What might surprise you however is who telling us it’s illegal. His Majesty George the Fifth, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India decreed it so on April 20, 1929. King George’s decree was incorporated into Cypriot legislation in 1957 where it still remains to this day. And not to hurt the feelings of any EOKA fighters out there, but “His Majesty King George the Fifth” is actually the way this certain piece of legislation starts.

And when it comes to legislation, EOKA is worthy of its own mention. Their fighters are honored by the state and monuments to those that lost their lives during that fight are found almost everywhere? Being an EOKA fighter even counts as a reason for leniency in court, as it was with the case of former Central Bank governor Christodoulos Christodoulou who was recently sentenced for tax evasion.

But statues and national holidays were not apparently sufficient for some legislators, who in 1987 decided the country wasn’t honouring EOKA enough. So they voted in a law to legally recognise EOKA’s contribution to Cyprus which they amended in 1993 to establish a registry of EOKA fighters.

Even more recent laws don’t necessarily make sense. There’s a 1998 piece of legislation making it illegal to change the name of any location – be it town, village or pretty much anything else that has a name – on the island, unless you go through the appropriate committee? So, if you for example own an official publication or a website and you misspell “Nicosia”, you better have €50,000 in hand to pay for your transgression.

Legislation making you loudly wonder “WHAT!?” is even more recent. In 2009 the House passed a law making it mandatory for all public buildings to include in their construction budget at least 1 per cent for buying works of art to decorate the premises.

“We thought it would be a good way to show some support to the arts,” explains House legal affairs committee chairman Soteris Sampson, adding that modernising legislation and abolishing outdated laws is of the highest priority for the committee.

The DISY MP told the Sunday Mail that House legal affairs committee first has to deal with memorandum legislation, then with harmonising Cyprus law with European law and can only then move on with tidying up the Cyprus legal system.

Sampson explains that while many of these laws are technically still in effect and haven’t been abolished, they have been essentially substituted with other more relevant legislation. For example, when courts deal with cases of counterfeit currency they don’t refer to the 1957 legislation but instead the 2004 harmonising legislation on the euro, that is the same in all countries in the Eurozone.

“Still there are hundreds of provisions that need to be amended. Keeping these laws and provisions in our legal system makes us look like a third-world country,” he said. The House legal affairs committee in collaboration with the justice ministry is working towards modernising legislation to reflect contemporary views, he said.

“I want to assure people that it’s high on our agenda.”

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