The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by Diko MP Zaharias Koulias against a lower court decision to award a former minister €25,000 in damages for defamation.
The case goes back to 2006 when former agriculture minister Costas Themistocleous, a staunch supporter of reunification, sued Koulias over comments he made on a morning radio show implying Themistocleous was on Turkey’s payroll to support the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state.
“…who, let me remind you by the way, recently collected £7,000 (Sterling) from a Turkish company and the next day he went on a television show and said there is no pseudostate,” Koulias said of Themistocleous.
Themistocleous took Koulias to court, but his lawsuit was rejected by the district court. He filed an appeal at the Supreme Court, which ruled Koulias’ comment as defamatory and ordered a retrial at district level with a different judge just to determine the level of compensation.
The former minister was eventually awarded €26,000 in compensation plus €10,000 in interest and expenses in January 2013.
However, after the Supreme Court judgement, Koulias discovered that Themistocleous’ lawyer was the founding partner of the firm for which the son of the presiding judge on the supreme court’s bench worked.
Koulias applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which found there was a violation of his right to a fair trial and awarded him €9,600 in damages.
With the ECHR decision in hand, Koulias appealed the Supreme Court judgement ordering a retrial.
The MP’s lawyer argued that the ECHR decision rendered the Supreme Court judgement null and void, along with everything that followed.
However, the Supreme Court rejected the position, arguing that the ECHR had only ruled on the fair trial matter and had not accepted the applicant’s claim regarding violation of his right to free expression. The applicant withdrew his fair comment defence.
“As the government pointed out, the applicant’s lawyer agreed with the court unreservedly on the matter and expressly stated that he was in favour of limiting the issue on appeal to whether there was defamation. As a consequence, the Supreme Court’s examination of the case and ruling was limited to that sole issue,” the ECHR said.
Considering this, “we think the ECHR decision does not contradict but complements” the Supreme Court decision.