Cyprus wants to push through justice reform

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Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis on Wednesday submitted bills to speed up the Cyprus Justice system, urging MPs to vote them in before the House dissolves ahead of the parliamentary elections on 30 May.

Cyprus ranks among the slowest countries in the EU for delivering swift justice, according to international institutions.

While the EU average required to complete a court case is eight months, Cyprus needs more than 2,500 days.

The bills bring sweeping changes aimed at speeding up the notoriously slow wheels of justice.

They were drawn up in consultation with a working group made up of MPs and the Cyprus Bar Association and reviewed by the Supreme Court.

“Today is a milestone for the much-awaited justice reform, which is a priority of the current government and me personally,” Yiolitis said after submitting the bills to parliament.

She said stakeholders agreed the justice system needed reforms to quicken procedures as the slow pace has adverse effects on society, the economy and entrepreneurship while undermining people’s trust.

Completing the reform, said the minister, will bring about a radical, fundamental reconstruction of the justice system, drastically changing the way justice is administrated.

Talking about practical changes, the minister said that three judicial councils would be set up and a secondary board so that there is effective mutual control among the courts.

“The number of judges at the highest levels is increased so that, among other things, there is an increased majority when it comes to important constitutional issues,” said Yiolitis.

Regarding appeals, particularly civil cases, which are the most pending, these will be handled by the supreme court and the appeals court to clear a backlog of some 3,500 within two years.

Concerning access to justice, citizens will have the right under amended article 144 of the constitution to ask the supreme constitutional court to hear constitutional complaints relating to cases before the district court.

It would relate to the right to a hearing, the presumption of innocence, the right to religion and work.

House Legal Affairs Committee chair ruling DISY MP Yiorgos Georgiou said the bills would go to the plenary for a vote; however, opposition AKEL and DIKO both expressed concerns over the tight time framework, as parliament dissolves in three weeks.

The opposition parties also expressed their dismay that the government had failed to bridge differences with the supreme court on the matter.

According to CyBC radio, the bills were not welcomed by some judges of the Supreme Court.

AKEL MP Aristos Damianou said that in July 2020, the bill was rejected and sent back to the ministry “as it did not meet the minimum requirements of the justice system”.

“There has been difficulty bridging the gap on several issues such as the separation of the Supreme Court and a Supreme Constitutional Court, the establishment of the Supreme Judicial Council and other issues such as the role of the Court of Appeal.”

DIKO MP Christiana Erotokritou argued that it is more important to get the bill right rather than getting it voted in quickly.

“The content and the essence of the reform is what is important and not the time it takes to get it done, whether it will be before or after the elections.”