In his ongoing feud with the attorney-general’s office, auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides has repeatedly spoken about the need to end the former’s dual role as advisor of the state and state prosecutor. This is not something that Michaelides has thought up in order to get one over on Giorgos Savvides and his deputy, whom he has attacked on countless occasions, but a recommendation of the European Commission, which seeks a “clearer distinction between the Law Office’s advisory and prosecutorial role”.

In its Rule of Law report published in July 2023, the commission reminded that in 2016, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (Greco) “expressed the view that being an integrated part of the Law Office, the prosecution service may be seen to operate in an environment that is not free from potential or real risk of improper influence.” Although a draft law on the reform of the attorney-general’s office was prepared and submitted to the House for discussion last April it completely ignored this matter, being more concerned with the “salary alignment of law officers with the salary scales of judicial officers” and the establishment of a prosecutorial council to decide on recruitment, promotions and disciplinary action against law officers.

No real explanation was given as to why Greco’s recommendation, which would make for a better-functioning legal service was ignored. The Law Office told the European Commission officials on a visit to Cyprus that there were no plans to separate the two functions, because the need for such a reform “has not been expressly pointed out or implied by Greco”. If it was a good idea, could the Law Office not have adopted it, without being ordered to do so, especially as it had the support of the bar association as well as stakeholders? It would also ensure a more effective prosecution service as its law officers would specialise as prosecutors instead of doing advisory work as well and improving their skills in neither. Does the AG not want his lawyers to sharpen their legal skills through specialisation?

The Rule of Law report also said the “absence of possibility of review of the decision of the attorney-general not to prosecute or to discontinue raises concerns.” These are very legitimate concerns, considering Cyprus stands alone as the only member state of the EU in which no form of hierarchical or judicial review is provided for these decisions. It is astonishing that in this day and age, the AG enjoys power that verges on the absolute. This constitutionally protected lack of accountability is what we would expect in a totalitarian regime, yet our democracy has lived with it for years, accepting that an AG has the despotic powers of colonial times.

On Thursday, Akel deputy, Irene Charalambides tabled a proposal in the legislature for the amendment of Article 13 of the constitution that would end the power of the AG to decide against or suspend criminal prosecutions in the public interest. Under the constitution the AG has the discretionary power to decide what is in the public interest, without having to provide any explanation.

This power, however, works both ways. Last week, after Savvides stopped a private criminal prosecution against a Russian oligarch in a dispute over €110 million, the lawyer of the claimant publicly accused the AG of corruption and made the unsubstantiated allegation there had been a €3m pay off. This, despite the fact the Authority against Corruption had on three occasions been asked to investigate and found no evidence to support the lawyer’s claims. The AG issued two statements responding to the accusations, but avoided giving a full explanation for his decision, restricting himself to saying there was insufficient evidence.

The few people who had listened to the other side’s lawyer giving an account of the history of the case, which had been dragged through the Cyprus courts for close to 10 years with the claimant being unsuccessful, would perfectly understand the AG’s decision to stop the private prosecution. It would have been a waste of the courts’ time. But as the AG offered no explanation for his decision, many people would have taken the corruption allegations seriously.

The proposed amendment of the constitution would require the support of two thirds of the legislature to go through, a majority that is unlikely to materialise given that several parties are not keen on it. Perhaps Savvides, himself, should publicly support the amendment as his stated objective is to protect the institution of the AG. And there is no better way to protect the institution than by making it accountable.