By Jean Christou
Plenary sessions of the parliament will be moved from Thursday afternoons to Friday mornings, House president Demetris Syllouris announced on Monday after a meeting with party leaders.
Syllouris said Monday’s meeting was the first with party heads to mark the new parliamentary term. Elections were held in May.
“We discussed many issues, some of which will continue at the next meeting,” he said.
One of the first items on the new plenum’s agenda this Friday would be a discussion on the removal of a provision for the death penalty that remains in the constitution even though Cyprus abolished it by law in 1983 for murder cases and in 2002 for all other offences.
Article 7 states: “No person shall be deprived of his life except in the execution of a sentence of a competent court following his conviction of an offence for which this penalty is provided by law. A law may provide for such penalty only in cases of premeditated murder, high treason, piracy jure gentium and capital offences under military law.”
Cyprus is a signatory of the second optional protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides for full abolition of capital punishment, even though it registered reservations at the time about abolishing execution for grave crimes in times of war.
The last two executions by hanging were carried out in June 1962 for murder. British executioner Harry Allen – well known during the EOKA years – along with John Underhill came to Cyprus to carry out the executions.
Syllouris said the fact the provision remained in the constitution gives lawmakers the power to vote again on reinstating the death penalty and that is why it needs to be removed.
“This morning I spoke with the president and the attorney-general and briefed the party leaders and I will go to speak with the minister of justice in order to change the constitution because our laws abolished the death penalty,” he said.
He said the issue would be discussed at the Friday, September 9 plenary.
Syllouris also said he had told the party leaders that he would be appointing an informal legal council attached to the parliament “composed of three eminent lawyers, unpaid and of recognised standing” as advisers to the body.
On his reorganisation of the House workings, Syllouris said he had given out a new parliamentary committee programme to deputies so that if they were members of two or more committees, the schedules would not overlap.
Party leaders’ meetings would from now on also not take place immediately prior to the plenum as has been the practice up until now. “This caused delays to the start of the plenary and put pressure on discussion of the issues themselves,” he said.
Syllouris said that with his suggestions, parliament could double the amount of work it does. He also plans to find ways to make speech time more efficient during plenary sessions.
He said this would involve planning ahead and not deciding at the last minute how much time should be given to what topic or what speaker.
“They will know in advance the time limits for each party and MP,” he said.