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Our View: New judges to clear case backlog need to be up to scratch

Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou

“IN search of 26 new judges,” read a newspaper headline above a report about the government’s latest initiative to clear the backlog of cases in the courts. The matter was discussed during a meeting at the presidential palace on Monday attended by representatives of the Cyprus Bar Association and Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou.

Nicolaou said afterwards that one of the biggest problems facing the justice system is the accumulation of a big number of old cases that could be pending for between six to eight years in the district courts and five to six years in the appeal court. For this reason, it was decided to hire 26 judges to try cases that have been pending for longer than four years. Many other changes will be introduced, such as the setting up of new courts, the target being to clear the backlog by 2020.

For all this to work the new judges must be appointed, and Nicolaou has set the end of this year as the deadline for the recruitment procedure to be completed so that the clearing of old cases can begin in 2019. This seems a rather optimistic target, considering that it is judges who will be hired and not privates for the National Guard. There needs to be a rigorous selection procedure to ensure the new judges will be of a high professional standard, something that is easier said than done. The recruitment of new judges will be decided by the council of judicature made up of supreme court judges.

Applicants for a judge’s job usually sit exams and those with the highest marks are hired, presumably after an interview. This recruitment policy has weaknesses as some of the judges currently serving are not up to the job, according to their colleagues. In fact, it could be argued that some of the less capable judges also contribute to court delays by allowing filibustering ploys by lawyers, taking too long to issue decisions and being very soft on lawyers repeatedly requesting postponements of cases.

It is not only good knowledge of the law that is required for a judge to perform his or her job well. Someone could possess supreme knowledge of law, but be unable to keep control of the courtroom, be indecisive and take very long to issue a decision. The supreme court judges in charge of the recruitment procedure must have the ability and experience to decide which applicant will make a good judge, because if the wrong people are hired it might take much longer to clear the backlog of cases than the end of 2020.

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