THE CASE, reported in the last issue of the Sunday Mail, about a Limassol man waiting for more than five years for the Supreme Court to examine an appeal against a compensation payment his family was awarded, is another example of our dysfunctional justice system. The delays caused by a clogged up court system, caused by Cypriots’ taste for litigation and the excessive number of lawyers seeking business, ensure that the meting out of justice is neither quick nor efficient.
The family of the above-mentioned Limassol man was awarded damages of €185,000 by Limassol district court in 2011 in a case of medical negligence after his father had gone into a private clinic for a routine operation that went horribly wrong leaving him partly paralysed and in need of kidney dialysis. But the doctor involved appealed against the decision and, five years later, both sides are still waiting for the Supreme Court to examine the case.
According to legal sources, the waiting time was excessive by normal standards. Apparently, it takes two years for the Supreme Court to give a date for an appeal hearing, but once this is done the procedure moves relatively quickly, unless one of the two sides decides to engage in delay tactics. A common practice, for instance, is for one party to change lawyers, a few days before the hearing – the new legal team would request time to study the case and could then change appeal just to delay things.
As we have argued in this space in the past, the dysfunctional justice system, unintentionally, works in favour of those often in the wrong, rather than helping law-abiding citizens who would benefit from the quick administration of justice. For instance someone refusing to pay their debts could use the justice system to delay payment by several years. The delays also force people to settle for unfair compromises which are often preferable to being dragged through the courts for years.
It may sound perverse, but part of the problem is the easy access people have to the justice system. Anyone who feels like it can take a case to court, taking up the time of the courts for trivial issues, because it is a low cost exercise which most people can afford. One of the reasons the Supreme Court is so clogged up is because every civil servant or SGO employee that missed out on promotion can appeal against the decision. These nonsensical appeals, that are brought because they cost very little, are a bit of fun for civil servants. Fortunately, from this year these cases will be sent to the newly set-up administrative court.
While this might reduce delays, it will not solve the problem, which is why the Supreme Court should consider increasing the costs of using the courts. Higher costs would limit the number of time-wasters and discourage people from taking legal action over trivialities. Limiting access to the courts might seem undemocratic but it is necessary if we want to put an end to the unacceptable delays in the administering of justice.