Everyone has now had their say about last week’s revelations of conflict of interest at the supreme court. Despite the supreme court judges’ protestations of impartiality and their rejection of claims about links with the Chrysafinis and Polyviou law office the facts contained in the letter written by lawyer Nicos Clerides and sent to the president of the Bar Association have not been disputed. What has been disputed by the judges was the interpretation of these facts, which is why their announcement relied much more on platitudes than substance.
The announcement, referring to Clerides’ letter, said it gave “a twisted picture and attempted a blatant attack against the Supreme Court.” It said the “unsubstantiated attack on the prestige of justice and the honesty of its officials” caused “sadness to the Supreme Court” and questioned the timing of Clerides’ revelations. It then adopted a didactic tone, saying: “The non-stop and blindly hostile rhetoric aimed at judges and judicial rulings gradually creates a chasm between the courts and the people, causing irreparable damage to the relationship between society and the judiciary.”
The arrogance of the announcement was quite astonishing. It made no concession to the possibility that Supreme Court judges may have erred in failing to recuse themselves from cases being fought by the law firm that employed their offspring. This was based on the dubious assumption that a Supreme Court judge would never show the slightest hint of human weakness and (even subconsciously) show the slightest bias towards the employer of his offspring. Do Cypriot judges expect to command people’s respect by presenting themselves as a special type of human being to whom conflict of interest does not apply?
Supreme Court president Myron Nikolatos issued his own statement, audaciously accusing Clerides of slander and of attempting to destroy his name by citing the out of court settlement his sister and daughter reached with the Bank of Cyprus. They were compensated in June 2018 after bringing a case against the bank as bond holders. How many other bondholders were compensated by the Bank of Cyprus? Three months after this out of court settlement, brokered by the Chrysafinis and Polyviou law office that represented the bank, Nikolatos, as president of the three-member appeal court, voted in favour of overturning the sentences of the Bank of Cyprus and the bank’s CEO Andreas Eliades for market manipulation. With the other two judges taking opposing views Nikolatos had cast the deciding vote.
The ruling, which said that the CEO was justified in lying to angry shareholders and this did not constitute market manipulation, more than justified the “hostile rhetoric aimed at judges and judicial rulings” that the Supreme Court claimed to take exception to. The fact is that the President of the Supreme Court took a decision that favoured the Bank of Cyprus, three months after this bank had agreed to compensate his sister and daughter.
And this is the crux of the problem. Judges labour under the illusion they are untouchable and that people’s respect is guaranteed regardless of their actions. They need to change attitude if they want to regain the respect they have taken for granted.