THE president of the Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a damning indictment of the justice system and the court infrastructure, which he compared to a third-world country, calling it a disgrace to the country’s capital.
The delays in Cyprus’ judiciary system are unacceptable for a modern EU member state, Supreme Court President Myronas Nikolatos said told MPs, adding that Cyprus ranks worst across the EU in the number of judges proportionate to the population.
Speaking during the House Finance committee which was examining the judicial service budget, Nikolatos said that while the judiciary in Cyprus was independent, impartial and honest, the delays observed in delivering justice were unacceptable and primarily down to lack of staffing due to austerity policies in place since the over the last few years.
Responding to questions on how Cyprus fares compared with other EU countries, Nikolatos told MPs the island is the worst country across the block when it comes to the number of judges in proportion to the population and also the last as far as spending on the judiciary was concerned.
He added that Cyprus ranked “somewhere in the middle” for efficiency in court proceedings.
Nikolatos also went on to say that the district courts were worse than those of third-world countries and “it is a disgrace for the capital of Cyprus to have such buildings.”
During a recent visit there, judges were desperate due to the state of the buildings and how understaffed it is, he said.
The Supreme Court head said that despite attempts by the justice ministry, there was also still no computerised system for Cypriot courts.
Efforts are being undertaken, spearheaded by the justice and finance ministry so that a system of electronic justice and a computerised system can begin operating by the beginning of 2018.
Additionally, civil procedures as they stand at the moment allow for an abuse of the system and a waste of court’s time, Niklatos said. Despite continuous attempts, a suitable group of people with the necessary knowledge and expertise to take on the task of modernising the system surrounding civil procedures has not been found, he added.
Based on what the situation is now, it is necessary to create a second appeals department to allow Supreme Court deal with major constitutional matters, Nikolatos said.
Additionally, there is now a push to create a specialised commercial court and specialised administrative court for matters concerning international protection, including asylum applications.
The commercial court would have five judges that would have the same rank as district court president and would either be court presidents or lawyers.
An administrative court, set up over a year ago, has been working very well and is a positive step, Nikolatos added.
Committee chairman, Akel’s Aristos Damianou said that “after the realisation that “we are not doing well at all in the health and education sectors, today we can also realise that we are also not doing well in the sector of delivering justice.”
Not as far as the standard of justice but the speed of it and the problems surrounding the judicial system, he said.
Meanwhile, during the same committee session, Attorney-general Costas Clerides said major reforms would be undertaken with the legal service, which is currently cooperating with Irish experts on preparing on study evaluating the best way to do so.
The aim is that the legal service asserts its independence and autonomy from the state service and practitioners can be equated with judicial staffers and not be hired by the Public Service Commission like all other civil servants.
A draft bill has already been submitted, which the committee chairman Giorgos Georgiou said he had earlier told MPs that the bill should be discussed.
Presenting the budget for his service for 2018, Clerides said the budget was €18.8m compared with last year’s €22m.
The €3m decrease is due to the lowering the budget for compensations and legal costs which is usually done using rough estimates, Clerides said. There is no reason for the budget to be higher and if there is a shortage, a request for more money will be filed accordingly.
Wages are also currently unacceptable, he added, with several employees choosing to progress to the role of judges leaving gaps within the legal service.
Of the 83 positions of state lawyers in the legal service, 31 are still empty however opening up 10 new positions has been approved Clerides said, leaving 41 vacated positions they are trying to fill.
There are also discussions on finding a new building to house the legal service, he added.