The justice system is in danger of collapsing if no changes are made, Justice Minister, Ionas Nicolaou, said on Thursday.
Presenting the budget of his ministry for 2019 to the House finance committee, Nicolaou said administration of justice in the country is ailing and that holistic measures need to be taken for a comprehensive approach.
He also announced important changes and reforms in all areas of the ministry of justice aimed at modernisation and reorganisation.
The government, he said, has decided to push on with the implementation of suggestions by Irish experts who were asked to carry out a study delivered last March 2018 on reforming and reorganising the structure and functioning of the courts.
“If the changes are not made, the system will collapse, all the reforms envisaged in the study must be made,” Nicolaou said. He also called for constructive cooperation by all.
The reforms, he said have already begun and are expected to be completed in 2020. A reform committee has been set up, a director has been appointed and the drafting of bills has begun.
He also said that “2019 will be a year that will be distinguished by major changes and reforms in all areas of the ministry with the aim of modernising and reorganising it.”
For the first time since 1960, changes are being made in connection with the administration of justice, he said and referred to the creation of an administrative court and a commercial court, referring to “radical changes”.
Nicolaou also told MPs that under police internal audit operations, 69 cases concerning corruption of police officers have been investigated, of which 19 have been completed. At the moment, procedures are underway for the prosecution of six officers and four members of the public for disciplinary action against three other police officers.
A draft anti-corruption bill has been prepared, he said, which is in its final stages.
Nicolaou also admitted that prison workers were involved in giving inmates banned items.
He said that measures would be taken, such as unscheduled checks both to staff and in cells. A constant effort was being made to address the problem but it was not easy, he said.
By the end of the month, he said, a deactivation system for mobile phones, which will cost approximately €1m, will be installed in prisons.
Nicolaou also said that there has been a decrease in criminal acts compared to last year but that the sense of security of citizens is still being affected by crimes not related with organised crime such as the murder this week of a 56-year-old woman in the Marathasa area.
In 2018, he said there had been 10 murders and increased cases of rape.
The minister said that the policing model has changed and was replaced by community policing covering almost the whole of Cyprus.
He also said that police services such as the drug squad and the CID have been reinforced and that street patrols have increased. The presence of police, he said, “has become a shadow of organised crime.”
The minister also said that the first speed cameras were expected to be up and running by the end of 2019.
A package of bills has also been sent to the state legal service for vetting that increase penalties for serious traffic offences.
The minister said that it is not uncommon for the same driver to be caught two to three times within the same day for traffic offences, such as the use of mobile phones while driving.
The reforms follow also calls by the judiciary for action to improve delays in serving justice.
President of the Supreme Court Myronas Nikolatos, last year said that the justice system and the court infrastructure, were those of a third-world country and a disgrace.
The delays in Cyprus’ judiciary system were unacceptable for a modern EU member state, he had said, adding that Cyprus ranks worst across the EU in the number of judges proportionate to the population.