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Cyprus

Supreme Court dismisses accusations it acted like a trade union

The Supreme Court did not act as a trade union in advising parliament that including judges, the attorney-general, and his deputy, in a government bill regulating the state payroll would violate constitutional articles, it said.

The court’s chief Myron Nikolatos had appeared before the House finance committee last Monday, in order to present the bench’s views on a bill linking pay-hikes in the public sector to the country’s economic performance.

He told lawmakers that, for reasons to do with separation of powers and safeguarding full independence of the judiciary, the salaries of judges and the Legal Service top brass may not be decided by the executive.

Predictably, this led to scornful criticism in the media, particularly as judges has already been vilified in the public’s eyes after challenging – and eventually overturning – a 2011 law stipulating that the entire public and broader-public sector would contribute 3 per cent of their salaries to the government, in order to help weather the unfolding economic crisis.

At the time, the fact that the ruling exempting judges from this law was made by Supreme Court judges was not lost on the public.

“The judiciary’s reaction, citing unconstitutionality on the issue of judges’ salaries, cannot go without comment,” one Phileleftheros columnist wrote.

“The judges were the ones who reacted when salary cuts were attempted. The perception of protecting the judiciary with explicitly unionising terms can only be considered perverse. Especially as judges are a super-privileged group.”

And on Wednesday, another columnist in main opposition AKEL’s mouthpiece Haravgi, which would have every reason to focus on the fact that the government’s bill was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, was equally critical.

“The troubling thing is the Supreme Court’s refusal to include the separate independent powers into the regulatory framework of the state’s payroll,” it said.

“The Supreme Court asked to be exempted last time, too, when employees in the public and private sector suffered wage-cuts due to the crisis.”

But they didn’t protest in the slightest “all these years, when their salaries were linked to the raises and increments of the public sector,” Haravgi added.

“If this discrimination is to be permitted, it should apply to the low-wage earners, not the highest-paid.”

The Supreme Court seemed to take offence in these arguments, and decided to respond in a statement.

“As a rule, the Supreme Court does not comment on newspaper reports or remarks made in the media, nor on statements made by politicians or others,” the court’s statement said.

“However, on rare occasions, it is forced to make some statements to correct inaccurate perceptions.”

In the case of the government bill regulating public-service payroll, the statement added, the Supreme Court shared some views with the President of the Republic and the House Speaker, and, after being invited, a delegation from the Supreme Court attended a House finance committee session.

“The Supreme Court’s goal was to point out that certain clauses of the bill in question could lead to constitutional problems,” it said.

“These clauses relate directly to governance issues of critical importance, including the independence of the Judiciary, which is safeguarded in the Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus, and which the Judiciary has a duty to protect.”

This independence is a foundation of democracy and the rule of law, and includes protections of judges’ jobs, as well as ensuring the terms of their employment and compensation, the Supreme Court argued.

“In addition, the principle of separation of powers, which is clearly stipulated in the Constitution, mandates that the Judiciary is distinct from the public service or other state services.”

In this context, the Supreme Court’s comments during parliamentary discussion related to the fundamental constitutional issues, and were not unionising in nature, it said.

“It must be added that judges volunteered 20 per cent of their salaries over the last three years, due to the financial crisis facing the country,” the statement said.

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