THE NEW Minister of Justice and Public Order, Emily Yiolitis, issued a written statement on Monday, about the negative references to the Cyprus justice system in the annual report of the European Commissioner for Justice. She highlighted the “negative firsts for Cyprus, particularly with regard to the speed in administering justice”, explaining that the speedy voting through of the bills for the reform of the justice system was a “dire necessity”.
The bills, she hoped, would be approved by the legislature this month, but knowing how deputies operate this may be a tad optimistic. While it helps that there is no party opposition to the proposed reform in principle, deputies are not renowned for their sense of urgency in discussing important bills. Considering many of them are lawyers by profession, they will feel they have the expertise to delve into every little detail of the bills. It is their duty to do so for every bill tabled in the House, but they may be inclined to be more thorough than usual in this case.
Whether the bills are passed this month or after the summer recess is not really the issue although the minister’s attempt to introduce a sense of urgency by citing the Justice Commissioner’s report is understandable. The big issue is how quickly the reforms would take effect, bearing in mind the members of the judiciary, who have been accustomed to doing things in a certain way, for decades will have to change their work practices. Reform of an institution with its own traditions and practices is a difficult undertaking, even if there is no opposition to the new regime.
What cannot be doubted or questioned is the government’s commitment to the reform. On Monday Yiolitis said the justice ministry was working on another two initiatives aimed at speeding up the administering of justice and decongesting of the courts. Permission for an appeal by the court would be based on criteria while the second initiative envisages the setting up of a small claims court at which procedures would be simpler and decisions issued faster.
For years, Cyprus has needed a small claims court, bearing in mind how litigious Cypriots are and the easy, low-cost access everyone has to the courts. This is one of the main reasons for the clogged-up courts and the huge delays in the administering of justice. People could be wasting the court’s time with trivial disputes over a house fence or few hundred euros. As nobody wanted to price these disputes out of the courts, by demanding a hefty court deposit for every case, sending them to small claims court could be a the much-needed solution.
All the right moves are being made by the government but the real test will be how they will work in practice.