By Jean Christou
There has been a lot written in the news lately about the clogged-up judicial system and the amount of time it takes to process civil cases, and the delay in setting an EU-mandated administrative court, which would take on some of the burden off the Supreme Court.
A survey late last year found that 90 per cent of lawyers and judges believed that the duration of civil cases was unjustifiably long and 74 per cent said rules for civil procedure should be radically changed. Credibility issues also crept into the survey with almost half, 46 per cent, believing court decisions contained contradictions.
The situation is no doubt frustrating for Cypriot litigants but imagine how it must be for a non-Cypriot who doesn’t speak Greek, or a stubborn octogenarian Brit who decided to ignore the old adage and take on the Cypriot legal system by representing himself.
Barry Wynne is a World War II veteran and a prolific author with 10 titles under his belt and a long career in broadcast television in the UK.
According to his biography, he and his family spent the last decade of the 20th century cruising the Med in their boat and stopped over in Larnaca “temporarily” in or around the year 2000. It all sounds idyllic as written in his bio, but in reality Wynne has now spent 15 years here, and more than ten of those battling the legal system. He is now 86 years old.
He has spent tens of thousands of euros to the point where he could no longer afford a lawyer, ultimately lost his case, was denied the right to appeal, went to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and is currently doing his best to have the Supreme Court look at his case even though the appeals deadline is long past.
Wynne’s case has gone before seven different judges, numerous court appearances, countless adjournments, witnesses who failed to show or ‘disappeared’ when bailiffs looked for them, finding and losing translators he paid for out of his pocket, and two counter suits, which he won.
He was denied legal aid, fobbed off by lawyers, court registrars, court presidents, the Larnaca Bar Association and the attorney-general’s office “all of whom claimed they had no authority to deal with my complaint”. On top of that a key section of vital testimony was omitted from the court transcript of the hearing on the day of his verdict in June 2012. But though he has technically lost, Wynne refuses on principle to give up.
He says his old regiment’s motto was that you don’t give up “until the last bullet has been fired” but more than that is the sense of injustice that his integrity was called into question by the courts that is the most galling, given that a perusal of his court documents indicates that Wynne is someone ‘very proper’ who never fails to dot the ‘i’ and cross the ‘t’.
It all began in the year 2000 when Wynne loaned another British man living in Larnaca $5,000 for a period of two months. “The man said he would pay back $1,000 [in interest] after eight weeks. I wasn’t asking for interest at any time or not even thinking about it but he put it in the contract,” said Wynne. The contract was duly signed and witnessed.
To cut a very long and complicated story short, two years later the money was not forthcoming, and the interest had piled up with the debt now standing at $18,000. In May 2002 Wynne had a conversation with a well-known Larnaca businessman, a Greek Cypriot, who had also loaned money to the British man as he had been close friends with the man’s father.
The businessman suggested he and Wynne see his lawyer together. In conversation at the lawyer’s office, the businessman said that if the British man did not pay Wynne, he would as he was expecting the British man to inherit a large sum of money in the near future. “Nothing was signed. It was an informal arrangement agreed before the lawyer,” said Wynne. Time went on but there was no sign of any money from the British man who Wynne considered a “common fraudster”.
“He was always telling stories. He sent me to England to his own bank to pick up the money and I was stupid enough to believe him because he said his mother had died and he was going to inherit”.
Another two years passed and Wynne decided instead to sue the Larnaca businessman who had verbally guaranteed the loan. But just as he started that process, the businessman was found non compos mentis by the courts in an action brought by his own son who was subsequently granted power of attorney over his father’s affairs.
In return for Wynne’s requested testimony in favour of the businessman, the latter’s lawyer offered to seek a court judgment for him against the British man, which was eventually secured in 2004 on what was now a $27,000 debt, but it proved useless as there was no way to force compliance with the ruling.
Wynne said he had no option then but to sue the businessman’s son under the verbal agreement with his father as he was legally the administrator of his father’s debts. It took eight years to get through the courts and during the same period Wynne had to fight off two counter claims from the son, all of which Wynne won.
When the case was finally judged in 2012 and Wynne represented himself, he managed with great difficulty to get the older businessman’s lawyer on the stand and to admit under oath that there had been a verbal agreement in 2002 that the lawyer had personally witnessed. This was recorded in the court minutes. But just to make sure it was heard more than once, Wynne quizzed the lawyer a second time with four specific questions relating to the deal, which the latter re-confirmed.
He finally felt vindicated although the original judge in the Court of First Instance had ruled against him saying: “I find the testimony of the claimant not credible and therefore he has not proved his claim.”
Wynne felt he had entirely proven his case, with the existence of a verbal contact, which had been witnessed by a lawyer. The verdict, he said “virtually accuses me of untruthfulness”. “This I will not tolerate and is the main cause for my continuing battle”.
What was most shocking in this case however was that when Wynne went to pick up the court transcript, the four specific questions he had asked the lawyer, and which had proven his claim were omitted, and to this day, still are.
After the verdict, he threw himself back into the breach, failing to secure the right to appeal on procedural grounds and ultimately missed the appeals deadline, partly due to summer recess. He was pushed from pillar to post around the judicial system and filed to the ECHR on the grounds of an unfair trial – which was deemed inadmissible in June 2013 – then in Cyprus back again to the courts, all because he was a lay litigant in a foreign country who did not know where to turn to even have a deficient court transcript amended.
A lady lawyer had asked him for €3,000 up front “just to put in the application to have the minutes changed”. As a lay litigant it was not something Wynne could do himself. “All through the years I could never find out who is in charge of what,” he said. “They will not tell you.”
One day in 2014 he walked into the Supreme Court and asked to see the chief registrar. She told him to write to the president of the Court and title his letter ‘complaint’. He did so in May that year. A response the same month said he should submit details of his complaint. He put it together by October but in the meantime the president of the Court had changed. Wynne forged ahead, delivering his letter on October 15 by hand. He has not heard anything since.
Wynne recalls many years ago at the start of his litigation as he was chatting with lawyers down at the Larnaca court. One turned to him and said: “I have worked in this court for nearly 30 years. Many individuals have attempted what you are trying to do. I cannot recall one of them succeeding.”
But he refuses to give up and plans to pursue the ECHR avenue again. “Justice has become a commodity that can be bought and sold,” Wynne said. “Truth has become a stranger in Cyprus, a parody of justice and a distortion of moral values.”