Cyprus Mail

Standoff over shop hours nearing conclusion as Supreme Court wraps up

The Supreme Court has deferred judgment having concluded hearing a case regarding a dispute between the government and the legislature on shop-opening hours.

Supreme Court President Myronas Nicolatos said the court would be delivering its ruling soon, due to the “urgent nature” of the matter.

The issue pertains to a standoff between the legislature and the executive over who has the final say in matters relating to retail trade regulations.

The government wants a liberal working-hour schedule for shops, including the right to stay open on Sunday, which opposition parties claim benefits the large chains but is slowly squeezing out small businesses who cannot afford to stay open as long.

The state is seeking a ruling that a parliament decision, dated December 10, 2015, which rejected regulations tabled by the government regarding shop opening hours, “violates the principle of separation of powers and is invalid”.

It is also asking for a judgement that the rejected regulations continued to be valid and should come into force immediately.

Before the Supreme Court on Wednesday, the two sides – Attorney-general Costas Clerides, representing the state, and lawyer Alecos Markides,  for parliament – sparred for a final time as they put forth their clarifications on their respective closing statements.

Clerides argued that the case at hand does not pertain to parliament’s broader right to approve, amend or reject regulations, but rather its right to interfere with “a purely administrative process regulating matters falling under the scope of the exclusive authority of the executive.”

He was referring to the government’s sole prerogative to regulate shop hours, based on a separate Supreme Court ruling, in December, which found that a related parliament law passed in May 2015 was unconstitutional.

Should the Supreme Court rule in favour of parliament, Clerides said, “we will end up with a paradox whereby a law sets out general provisions, recognises the executive’s constitutional right to amend these provisions by issuing its own regulations, and on the other hand once such regulations, which are an expression of government policy on a purely administrative process, are brought before parliament, the latter is able to amend them at will, thus implementing its own policy.”

For his part, Markides countered that the state’s authority to regulate shop hours is not vested in the constitution, but in a law, which contains exceptions.

This was the key to the case, he added.

“It is not the separation of powers that is being adjudicated here, but rather Article 54(g) of the constitution, according to which the issuing of regulations is an executive authority, but not in every case.”

Under Article 54, “the Council of Ministers shall exercise executive power in all other matters other than those which, under the express provisions of this Constitution, are within the competence of a Communal Chamber, including the following: (g) making of any order or regulation for the carrying into effect of any law as provided by such law;”

For Markides, the operative phrase is “as provided by such law.”

“Do you have a way to force the House of Representatives to pass an act sent to it by the executive? There is no way,” Markides told the court.

“It is inconceivable to me to accept that parliament’s rejection of regulations constitutes a violation of the principle of separation of powers.”

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