The head of the Association for the Protection of Borrowers (Syprodat), Costas Melas on Wednesday called for a speedier and more effective court system in settling disputes, arguing that the justice system in Cyprus was on the brink of collapse.

Melas suggested the appointment of a commissioner or a committee for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and the introduction of plea-bargaining practices.

Speaking to the Cyprus News Agency, Melas said there was an “urgent need” for new ideas for introducing mechanisms, “which will aim at decongesting the courts, speedy dispute resolution and making the process more cost-effective.”

According to Melas, attempts made from time to time to decongest the courts have failed, while the various committees of experts that were appointed from time to time did not bring substantial results.

Though there are already institutionalised mechanisms in Cyprus, he said, “they have limited possibilities for a final settlement of disputes, which is an absolute demand.”
Melas said the arbitration method was “unfortunately not used as much as it should be.” There is also the financial ombudsman, he said, but this mechanism’s decisions are not binding and its jurisdiction is limited to cases up to €170,000.

Another available recourse is mediation, which is also not the best option since the mediator’s decision is also not binding while he or she may refuse the appointment or resign without reason while the parties may also opt out at any time, Melas said. Another disadvantage of this option is that if parties do not agree on the mediator, the process cannot take place, he added.

He said Syprodat suggests the appointment of a commissioner or a committee for ADR, a mechanism that has been introduced in several countries.

“In many countries this procedure is legally mandatory, so that one can go to court while in other countries it is not mandatory, but is strongly recommended such as in Belgium, Russia,” Melas said.

Giving Greece as an example, Melas said the Hellenic financial ombudsman’s office was established in 2018 as a non-profit alternative dispute resolution organisation. It examines, impartially and free of charge, disputes regarding the provision of banking and investment products and services from banks and investment companies established in Greece to individuals and companies (with an annual turnover of up to €1m) and mediates for out-of-court settlements, Melas said.
He also called for the introduction of the plea-bargaining practice.

“We are perhaps the only country, member of the Council of Europe that has not adopted this negotiation process and one reasonably wonders why,” Melas said.

This institution, he said, is widely used in the in England and Wales where 70 per cent of criminal cases were handled through this method while in the US, it is used “almost exclusively.” He said that in 2019, some 97.6 per cent of criminal cases were handled through plea-bargaining.

“This institution is generally a very popular international procedural way of concluding criminal proceedings,” Melas added. “Ultimately, the administration of criminal justice in this way leaves everyone happy and still achieves the absolute goal, which is to restore order and social peace.”