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Our View: AG should step down on date stipulated by the constitution

Attorney-general Costas Clerides

The pettiness with which outgoing Attorney-general Costas Clerides has behaved about his retirement date defies belief. He could not have chosen a more undignified way to go, making a big fuss because he would have to step down three weeks earlier than he wanted to. After seven years in a state post, it seems incredibly petty for him to complain in public about leaving three weeks early and present himself as someone who has been wronged by the government.

Clerides turned on the media which reported his erratic behaviour rather unsympathetically, and took great exception to their suggestions that he was doing all this in order to maximise his earnings. He said these were “malicious claims by – the well-known to everyone by now – journalistic organs or other circles.”

It was not about the money, he insisted, saying that he had not taken his judge’s pension, while serving as AG, and this amounted to €180,000.

Perhaps the journalistic organs jumped to the conclusion because they could not come up with any other plausible reason for Clerides making such a fuss about the date he would be stepping down. No reasonable person would think that it was worth making such an issue about 23 days, issuing statements, appearing on television and implying bad treatment after seven years in the job.

What is astonishing is that legally, his case is very weak. According to one veteran lawyer speaking on Thursday morning, the Cyprus constitution clearly stipulates that the AG should step down on the day he or she turns 68 years of age. For Clerides this day is July 8, 2020. He has cited the pensions law for civil servants, which states that public employees would retire at the end of the month in which they reach retirement age.

If this law was applied, for Clerides, retirement would be on July 31. Does he not know that the constitution is the highest law of the land and he cannot cite the pensions law to defend his decision? Is the government’s chief legal adviser suggesting that the constitution’s provisions were ignored?

The government has tried to avoid controversy, and although it had announced July 10 as the day of the investiture of the new AG Giorgos Savvides, it said after the fuss raised by Clerides, that Savvides would not take up the post until August 1. But this could cause problems in court cases, with lawyers possibly questioning the validity of prosecution papers signed by an AG, after reaching retirement age, that would be deemed in violation of the constitution.

And to think such legal problems could be caused by an AG’s insistence on staying in his post for another 23 days, instead of doing the honourable thing and stepping down on the date stipulated by the constitution.

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