The public protest has for years been a popular alternative to political discourse. If an interest group thinks its arguments are not being heard or have failed to convince the other side, they stage a protest. The most popular venue for these protests/demonstrations is the presidential palace, because protesters have come to expect, not without good reason, that the president will help their cause.
There have been countless public protests in the last year – sheep and goat farmers, teachers, national guardswomen, pensioners, students among others – and not all have achieved the objective of the organisers. Nevertheless, it was a way of attracting some attention, even for five minutes via the evening television news, to the point of view of the hard done by protestors. How effective this very basic form of political action is we cannot say, but its popularity cannot be questioned.
We have come to expect it from certain groups of people like teachers, students and farmers but seeing lawyers gather outside the supreme court on Thursday in Nicosia to protest against the regulations for speeding up court cases, was something new. It is not often we see groups of professionals stage demonstrations. That this was organised by the Cyprus Bar Association, led by its president, made it even more surprising.
It is not setting a very good example in trying to resolve its dispute with the supreme court through a public protest, which could be interpreted as an intimidation tactic. Surely, the bar association should always support the resolution of disputes through debate and rational argument, not through demonstrations. It is not as if the bar association does not have a strong case in opposing the supreme court decision. Its president Christos Clerides argued very convincingly against the regulations, while speaking to journalists at the demonstration.
He explained that the regulations could lead to people being denied a fair trial as the supreme court would want quick rulings through summary procedures, without calling witnesses and interim orders being issued. Clerides estimated that there were 50,000 pending cases in the courts and the supreme court’s ruling affected those of the period 2014 to 2018, which amounted to 25,000. He did not propose an alternative way of clearing the backlog, which is the supreme court’s objective.
The bar association wants the regulation suspended and for the supreme court judges to discuss with experts how to make the regulation work without undermining the fair trial. Of course, there had been discussions of the regulation with the bar association and its views were sought before the decision was taken. Now there have to be more discussions and more delays in the courts, because otherwise the lawyers will step up their measures, like some militant union.