The highly touted two additional supreme courts envisioned within the justice reform package passed in summer – and aimed at speeding up the snail’s pace rate of court cases – are to be shelved until July 1.
The supreme constitutional court and the supreme court of justice will not commence operations on January 1 as had been promised, but there will instead be a six-to-seven-month delay.
The House legal affairs decided on Wednesday to propose change to the law – which must be passed through parliament. Antoni Liatsou, head of the supreme court, said the delay is necessary as there simply aren’t enough judges, yet.
The committee adopted his proposal after the top judge argued that should the two supreme courts begin operations as originally planned there would then be staffing issues along the lower rungs.
The hiring and training of the additional judges is expected to take about six to seven months, Liatsou offered – adding that during that time they will also hire the extra administrative staff.
Both the justice minister and attorney general backed the delay, but the bar association bristled as a representative said that unforeseen consequences may arise – emphasisng that the reform should go ahead on the basis on which it was approved.
Justice Minister Stephie Dracou argued that it is better to wait and get it done correctly rather than moving too fast and causing an imbalance elsewhere.
“It is a difficult task, but we cannot risk depleting the district courts or not properly staffing the others, the supreme court is the best judge on this matter we must responsibly listen to its reasoning,” Dracou said.
A second amendment to the bill was proposed by Liatsou who said that the total number of judges at certain courts may have to be lower than originally envisaged.
He reiterated that the supreme constitutional court has been ordered to have nine judges, but this could instead be changed to “up to nine”. Liatsou argued that this is line with other courts, such as the supreme court which is “up to seven” and the appeals court which is “up to 16”.
The Cyprus News Agency reported that there was muted cross-party reaction to the proposed delays, with all accepting Liatsou’s arguments and saying that they will go along with the proposals.
Senior EU bodies have consistently stated that the current sclerotic system turns off potential investors from Cyprus, meaning the island loses considerable business and development opportunities.
Summer’s reform package had reactivated the supreme constitutional court – which remained dormant under the so-called ‘law of necessity’ 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.
In addition to having a repurposed supreme court and a supreme constitutional court, the two bills provide for the establishment of an appellate court.
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.
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.
Earlier this year, Dracou said there is a steadily growing backlog of 5,000 cases pending in the supreme court and 42,000 cases in courts of first instance.
The reform’s key objective is to speed up the administering of justice.