Following three years of debate in committee, the House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation clearing the way for broad reform of the justice system that is hoped will shorten the time of litigation.

By a vote of 51 for and one against, the plenary voted through the 22nd amendment to the constitution, required to reactivate the Supreme Constitutional Court – which remained dormant under the so-called ‘law of necessity’ ever since the Turkish Cypriot community withdrew from the functions of the state.

During this time the jurisdictions of the Supreme Constitutional Court had been assigned to the Supreme Court. Now, both courts will operate again.

The constitutional amendment clears the path for the enactment of two separate items of legislation aimed at reforming the judicial system – these will go to the plenum for a vote likely next week.

In addition to having a repurposed Supreme Court and a Supreme Constitutional court, the two bills provide for the establishment of an Appellate Court.

In parliament on Thursday, MPs also voted through an amendment tabled by Akel’s Aristos Damianou, by which the Supreme Court maintains exclusive jurisdiction over issuing writs of habeas corpus and writs of certiorari.

In a written statement, Attorney-general Giorgos Savvides hailed the passage of the constitutional amendment as “a historic day.”

The specialised Supreme Constitutional Court will resolve any constitutional matter as may be referred by any other court, as well as any administrative review matter as may be referred by the new Appellate Court.

The Supreme Court will be repurposed as a third level-appellate court, competent to resolve any matter referred to it by the new (second level) Appellate Court and not falling within the competence of the Supreme Constitutional Court. In effect, the Supreme Court will deal with appeals on civil and criminal cases.

The Supreme Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court will comprise five judges each, appointed by the president after conferring with a judicial council. They are expected to begin operating by October 2022.

As a result of the rejigging, the Supreme Constitutional Court will take on some 377 pending cases; the Supreme Court 1,523 pending cases; and the new Appellate Court 3,149 pending cases.

The judicial reform drive also involves introducing new civil procedure rules – this will come at a later date.

In his statement, released shortly after Thursday’s vote in the House, the attorney-general described it as the largest reform in the justice system since the establishment of the Republic.

“It is a reform aiming to reverse the slide into collapse for the Cypriot justice system, tackle the delays in administering justice, and build a new, fast and effective system for administering justice for the public and the country.”

In a similar vein, government spokesman Marios Pelekanos called it a “historic development.”

Pelekanos said President Nicos Anastasiades conveyed his thanks to all who had a part in working on the reform.

In a statement of her own, Justice Minister Stefi Drakou noted that “…today is a great day for Democracy and the public.

“Parliament has risen to the challenge – paving the way for the reform of justice, and sending the message to thousands of our fellow countrymen that parliament hears their concerns and provides solutions to their problems.”

She added: “We anticipate that next Thursday this overdue revolution in justice will be complete. So that a new era begins for the rule of law in Cyprus. And all share in this achievement.”

A July 2020 European Commission Staff Working Document on the rule of law situation in Cyprus said the justice system continued “to face serious concerns as regards its efficiency.

“The time needed to resolve civil, commercial and administrative cases in first instance courts (882 days in 2019 compared to 737 days in 2018) still remains among the highest in the EU.”