THE government has set 2020 as the deadline for completing the reform of the justice system, which aims to cut the waiting time for court decisions by as much as a half. This would be an impressive achievement but bearing in mind how things work in Cyprus, the target would seem to belong to the realm of wishful thinking.
It suffices to say that the introduction of electronic justice, which is a big part of the reform plan, based on proposal by Irish experts has already hit snags. Although a decision has been taken on the company to develop the software for the electronic management of court cases, three of the losing bidders have appealed to the Tenders Review Board. Justice minister Ionas Nicolaou seems extremely optimistic in thinking a contract would be signed by October.
The rest of the reforms will not depend on a tender procedure. For instance, the supreme court will become a supreme constitutional court, and an appeal court will be established to deal with all appeals against court rulings. At present, the supreme court is the appeal court and it has such a workload it takes four to five years for a decision on an appeal in a civil case.
Another reform aimed at making the courts more efficient will be the establishment of an administration service to run the courts. This will take the burden of administering the court away from the supreme court, but it raises the danger of slow bureaucratic procedures and causing a different type of delay in the administering of justice. It is difficult to believe that the creation of an admin structure with public employees will speed things up.
Although Nicolaou was in consultations with the supreme court, the Bar Association and attorney-general none of them apparently considered the most obvious way of speeding up administering justice – reducing the number of cases before the courts. Cypriots are very litigious, said a former supreme court president, but the reforms do not address this problem which greatly contributes to the delays. A person will go to court for a dispute over 100 euros or because he objected to a wall built in his neighbour’s house.
These trivial disputes should not be allowed to waste court time and this could be stopped by imposing a sizeable deposit on a person taking court action; and if he loses his case he also loses his deposit. This would drastically cut down the number of people filing trivial legal suits at the drop of a hat. Abuse of the right to access to justice, which is the main cause for the long delays, would stop if there were charges for filing a legal suit. This should have been the first thing on the reform plan list.