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‘If we recuse so many judges there won’t be enough left’

The Supreme court

Citing the rule of necessity, the supreme court on Tuesday rejected motions requesting the recusal of several of its members from adjudicating the state’s appeals against the administrative court’s decisions on civil service salaries in which they have an interest.

In its decision, the court said that based on the law of necessity, it is permissible for judges who even have a direct financial interest to participate, if no other legitimate court can be put together to judge a case.

The appeals against the administrative court’s decisions reversing pay and pension cuts imposed on civil servants in 2012, is being heard by the supreme court’s full bench of 13 judges.

Justifying the state’s request for recusals, Attorney-general Costas Clerides said six of the judges have appealed personally against the pay cuts while others are married to civil servants who stand to gain from the outcome of the proceedings.

Clerides noted that confidence in the integrity and impartiality of judges is paramount. He argued that the stake a judge has in a certain case is not neutralised by the fact that he or she is part of a broader group – the full bench.

In its rejection, the supreme court said its full bench did not convene at will but rarely, to provide a final solution to key constitutional issues.

It argued that based on all the recusal requests, the court would not only be unable to put together a seven-member plenum, but not even a three-member appellate court.

“To this end, the rule of necessity is applied,” the court said.

“Under the circumstances we judge that our judicial duty comes first and requires that the exceptionally important and critical cases are judged by the full bench of the supreme court, in its 13-member lineup,” the court said.

In the March 29 decisions, the administrative court ruled that a freeze on incremental pay rises, a 3 per cent contribution to pensions, and a reduction in civil servants’ pay were in violation of article 23 of the constitution regarding the protection of the right to property.

The judgment applied to civil servants as well as persons employed in the broader public sector, such as semi-governmental organisations.

As such, the pay reductions were deemed null and void and the applicants entitled to compensation, effective immediately.

Various estimates have been floated on how much the decisions might cost the state should the administrative court’s ruling be upheld and the affected civil servants compensated.

The most conservative scenario sees a few million euros as immediate backpay, compensating only those civil servants who sued, plus €200m annually from restoring full salaries to all civil servants.

The decisions came at a time when the government had started gradually reinstating the austerity-driven cuts.

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