The supreme court announced on Wednesday it has adopted a code of conduct to apply the strictest standards of judicial disqualification or recusal.
The move followed recent allegations that raised serious questions regarding the impartiality of supreme court judges and its president, Myronas Nikolatos.
“Systematisation of the codes will undoubtedly help and guide the judges’ decisions in relation with their activities or their behaviour, for which they are responsible,” a supreme court statement said.
“At the same time, it was decided to amend the Judicial Practice that regulates the appearances before a court of lawyers who have family links with the judge.”
According to the statement, restrictions had been already placed 30 years ago, in 1988, and were amended throughout the years.
The court said the objective had always been to display the necessary impartiality but on the other hand “serious practical difficulties” which could have emerged from a total ban, due to the frequent recusals, were taken into account.
The shortcomings of the system in place had prompted Cyprus’ condemnation by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in January last year in a case where the law firm had links with the supreme court.
The supreme court said it has set aside any concerns regarding the practical difficulties which had to take the back seat to the “need of adopting absolute disqualification, an approach that is stricter” than what was suggested by the ECHR and the judicial practice to date.
According to the code, judges should recuse themselves from any procedure they cannot adjudicate impartially or may appear to a reasonable observer that they cannot do so.
Included are cases in which the judge had previously been a key witness or lawyer and cases in which they or a family member have a financial interest.
A judge will not adjudicate alone or as a member of a court any case where the lawyer is a member of their family as well as lawyers who are employers or are employed or are partners or lawyers working for the same firm.
The term family includes parents, spouses, children, the children’s spouses, siblings, siblings’ children and spouses, in-laws, godparents and godchildren.
Judges will not take part in a trial in which they know a family member is connected and they will not allow their home to be used by a law professional to see clients or colleagues.
Furthermore, judges must be informed of their personal financial interests and must make every reasonable effort to be informed about the financial interests of members of their family; judges will not allow their family or any other social relations to affect their conduct and judgement in court.
Judges are also banned from exploiting their position to promote their own, their family’s or anyone else’s interests nor should they allow anyone to suggest they can influence them in the exercise of their duties.
Judges and the families cannot ask nor can they accept any gifts, loans, or favours linked with the exercise of their duties nor should they allow any members of their staff to do the same.
The issue emerged after lawyer Nicos Clerides, the brother of the attorney-general, suggested that the supreme court was influenced by the Chrysafinis and Polyviou (C&P) law firm, which employed judges’ children or was otherwise connected to them.
Among the accusations was one regarding an out of court settlement between the sister and daughter of supreme court president Myronas Nikolatos and the Bank of Cyprus, which is represented by C&P. The settlement of two claims linked to convertible bonds preceded an appeal case in which Nikolatos took part, acquitting the bank’s former CEO.