Cyprus must strengthen the independence and accountability of the prosecution service, especially regarding its ability to discontinue or suspend prosecutions, the European Commission said in its Rule of Law report for 2023, published on Wednesday.
Saying that the Cyprus justice system “continues to face serious challenges as regards its efficiency”, the commission lists a number of recommendations to introduce transparency rules for officials’ assets, adequately resource the Independent Anti-Corruption Authority, promote legislation on state advertising, improve governance of public media and promote a framework for public consultation in the legislative process.
The annual report for 2023, which was presented at a press conference by the vice-president of the commission for values and transparency, Vera Jourova, contains chapters assessing the rule of law in each member state, focusing on how each government has addressed the Commission’s recommendations from the previous year, making new recommendations accordingly.
For 2023, the general remark was that 65 per cent of recommendations have been fully or partially addressed, but systemic concerns remain in some member states.
In an exclusive interview with CyBC broadcast the previous day, European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders had teased the contents of the report, saying that Cyprus had a lot of work to do to modernise its justice system and ensure justice is properly served.
Overall, concerning the recommendations in the 2022 Rule of Law report, Cyprus has made “significant progress” regarding the appointment of Supreme Court judges, and some progress in reforms regarding the composition of the supreme judicial council.
“The appointment of new judges and the adoption of new procedural rules are positive developments, while the shortage of support staff remains a challenge,” the report said.
The commission also remarked that Cyprus has continued to improve the effective investigation and adjudication of high-level corruption cases, which has included strengthening the attorney-general’s office and its budgetary independence.
“The Independent Anti-Corruption Authority has started its operations, albeit with limited staff,” it added, saying that the implementation of the national anti-corruption strategy is “on track”.
Despite this, some shortcomings were detected in the effectiveness of investigations and prosecutions, with results on high-level corruption cases still missing, the report added.
“Concerns exist on the limited access to information impacting the effectiveness of audits on the finance of public institutions.”
As mentioned in the abstract of the chapter on Cyprus, the national Recovery and Resilience Plan includes specific commitments regarding the functioning of the justice system and the anti-corruption framework.
To this end, the commission recommends that Cyprus strengthens the independence and the accountability of the prosecution service, “including by providing for a possibility of review of the decision of the attorney-general not to prosecute or to discontinue proceedings”.
Remarking that no progress was made in the past year on asset disclosure for elected officials, it was also recommended that the government introduce rules towards establishing regular filing and verification of this data.
Regarding the Independent Anti-Corruption Authority, the commission recommended that it has the “financial, human and technical resources to effectively perform its competences”.
There was also a recommendation to adopt legislation ensuring fair and transparent distribution of advertising expenditure by the state and state-owned companies.
The commission said that some progress was made in the past year with regards to mechanisms to enhance the independent governance of public service media, recommending that the state continue to strengthen them.
In addition, some progress was detected on establishing a framework for improving the quality and efficiency of the justice system, especially in terms of reducing the length of legal proceedings,
Such measures include digitisation, flagged by Reynders as one of the main issues detected not only in Cyprus but other member states as well, “but their implementation is slow”.
Speaking to CyBC on the subject, president of the Cyprus Bar Association Christos Clerides commented on Reynders’ interview, echoing most of his remarks.
“The justice system in Cyprus has been in trouble for years, which has in turn been troubling the public,” he said, commenting that there is indeed lots to be done to improve it.
Calling on the state to invest more on improving the courts, he listed a number of issues that he believes need to be resolved, placing particular emphasis on the backlog of delayed appeals and court cases in district courts.
Asked about digitisation, he explained that currently there is a temporary case registration system in place which will be replaced with e-Justice once all the data is successfully migrated.
He also pointed out that there is a huge delay in the digital logging of legal proceedings, but was optimistic that it will be fully implemented by the end of the year.
This also unreasonably delays the remote adjudication of cases where proceedings can be handled using modern technology, he concluded.