The House audit committee on Thursday addressed a recent auditor-general report on the judicial service, which covered a range of subjects including cuts to judges’ salaries, building and evidence security, delays, and the digital transition.
Committee chair Zacharias Koulias told reporters after the session that one of the main subjects on the agenda was delays in the course of justice, which are not just the fault of the judiciary body as there is also the supportive infrastructure that needs to be provided.
“In the past there used to be an order of sorts, but in the course of time, the courts became the poor relatives, left without the appropriate resources and support to properly conduct a trial,” he said, particularly after the economic crisis.
He explained that during that period there were no case studies or guidelines for judges to look back on when dealing with cases related to the haircut, and that the multiple cases involving banks complicated things even more.
In her own statements, Disy MP Rita Superman said the committee also addressed the controversy surrounding the lack of cuts to judges’ salaries according to the relevant legislation voted in 2012, which provided for pay cuts across the board in the civil service.
Despite this legislation, judges took no pay cuts after the Supreme Court ruled that doing so would be unconstitutional. In 2016 the attorney-general ruled that the cuts could be applied to newly appointed judges, which created confusion.
“This should not have happened, the people have suffered a lot, and based on principles and integrity, no one should have asked for an exception,” she said.
For her part, Akel MP Irene Charalambidou said that judges were once again receiving special treatment, with a court decision exempting them from the cuts and redundancies members of the public suffered in 2012.
“The Supreme Court instead issued letters of appointment with a 20 per cent voluntary cut, which stopped in 2017 instead of 2023 when the memorandum charges for everyone were set to end”.
Koulias said that the committee was also briefed on the progress of the digitisation of the legal system “that will help everyone, especially judges”.
Another issue discussed was security, both for the courts and evidence, with the committee chair saying that this should concern the justice ministry, which, as the committee heard today, will assign the task to a private security force – a “grave mistake” according to Koulias.
A general issue pointed out both by Koulias and several committee members was shortages of both staff and technical equipment, which causes further delays in handling cases.
“It is tragic to admit that since 1969 we have been trying to erect a new building complex in the courts of Nicosia, which is a shame for the judicial service, the officials and all the employees,” Dipa’s Alecos Tryfonides said.