We are at the dawn of the twenty-first century, a century where the swift administration of justice is a sine qua non for a modern rule of law such as in Cyprus. However, a thorny issue for each country and in ours also, is the delay in the administration of justice. In the words of the former British Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, on referring to justice, he stated that ‘Justicedelayedisjusticedenied’.
It is common knowledge, then, that justice is the platform of democracy, the refuge of the weak, the guardian of the Constitution, and the guarantor of human rights. The ensuring of the independence of the judiciary, requires "virtue and boldness". Therefore, if a Cypriot citizen believes that he/she cannot get justice and exercise his/her rights within a reasonable period of time, then the very core of the rule of law is questioned.
Unfortunately, in our country, there is a fairly long delay in the administration of justice, which according to the World Bank's Doing Business report, Cyprus occupies the 138th position among 190 countries worldwide. The score secured was only 48.59 out of 100, which is therefore below the base. It is estimated that on average, it takes 6.3 years to resolve a dispute before the Cypriot Courts, one of the longest timeframes throughout the European Union.
The Doing Business report refers specifically to a case of civil action with a claim of €40.661 in the District Court of Nicosia. The estimated time to review the case and to issue a decision is 1.100 days and the costs, in relation to the amount of the claim, are 16.4%. In other countries of Europe and Central Asia, the time for completing a decision is 496 days and the cost in relation to the claim is 26.3%. It is therefore clear that the difference between Cyprus and other countries is unreasonably high, in particularly when compared with the size and population of each country.
Yet to be fair, the report created for the purpose of Doing Business, states that the delay in the administration of justice is not only due to judicial proceedings, but also due to the handling of cases by the involved lawyers. It must be taken into consideration that individual indicators have shown that the quality of the courts in Cyprus are rated just 8th out of 18. In addition, in terms of the structure of the court proceedings, Cyprus received 3rd position out of 5, while in relation to the handling of cases the score was only 1.5 out of 6.
Nevertheless, the best score obtained was for alternative dispute resolutions that where rated 2.5 out of 3. Therefore, the creation of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, are in my view, an immediate priority since these are financially viable, they create less pressure and they take less time than the traditional way of resolving disputes. At the same time, litigation through the arbitration process is an interesting solution to be used to speed up procedures. Although the referral to arbitration is extensively carried out in contracts relating to construction projects, I firmly believe that this clause should also be included in other agreements. In this way, cases will first be referred for arbitration in settling disputes before entering the courtroom.
According to the experts reports among which were specialists from Ireland, it was recommended, inter alia, that a task force be created, which would deal primarily with all cases that were being delayed in being trialed and to set up a secondary Court of Appeal, between the Supreme Court and the Judgment Courts. To this end, it was proposed to create an independent administration for the courts with executives specialized in the administration of public bodies and the introduction of modern technology in the Courts, as well as the provision of necessary electronic means for use by the Judges. The establishment of Special Chambers within the Courts, where special cases can be heard by Judges with relevant expertise, is a solution that Cyprus can use to the maximum degree to expedite procedures.
Furthermore, it is being suggested for the introduction of electronic recording systems to be introduced so that all procedures in the Courts are conducted electronically. It is also being proposed to include a recording system for judicial proceedings and the introduction of new regulations and practices that allow the judicial process to be more effective. Moreover, there are recommendations for the implementation of intensive training programs for Judges and Court Staff, so as to improve the system and eliminate all the gaps that exist at present, in order not to hinder the credibility of justice.
In another investigation that has taken place where lawyers and individuals involved in the field of justice were concerned, the conclusion was that 90% of the legal practitioners which participated in the investigation considered that the time for hearing civil cases was unjustifiable and was predominantly at the expense of the claimants and/or defendants, whilst 70% considered that the timeframe required for criminal proceedings was also unduly excessive and at the expense of the defendants. In addition, one third considered it justifiable as an average time from completion of the case until the decision was adjudicated, while the majority, i.e. 70%, agreed that the time from the conclusion of the case to the adoption of the decision differed significantly from Judge to Judge. According to the survey, two thirds of the participating lawyers agreed that lawyers were contributing to the long delays in the trial of both criminal and civil cases.
It is worth stressing that the delay in the administration of justice also affects other factors, such as the development of the Cypriot economy. Undeniably, our legal system is the weak link in Cyprus's long-standing efforts to establish itself as a regional business center. Although our legal system is considered business-friendly, it does, in fact cause incredible long-term damage due the delays. These delays are therefore a barrier in attracting foreign investment to the island.
Of course, it is worth noting that a huge effort is being made to coordinate all the players involved, so that at the beginning of 2019 we are able to improve the way justice is being administered. For this reason, an action plan has been prepared to be implemented, on the basis of a Specific Timetable, from the beginning of 2020.
More specifically, it endorses the recruitment of 26 new Judges, which are required to adjudicate within 2 years all of those cases that have been pending before the District Courts for a period of longer than four years. It is also encouraging that the new Judges positions and supporting staff positions have been included in the budget of 2019. In addition, an important factor is that the Administrative Court was established so as to achieve a swift administration of justice in the secondary jurisdiction. Furthermore, the Director of Reform and Training, and the Ministry of Justice and Public Order prepared two bills for the establishment and operation of a School of Judges, based on the recommendations of the experts. However, comments on this matter are expected from the President of the Supreme Court for the purpose of finalizing and further promoting the School.
It is certain, then, that everyone will accept that the swift administration of justice is an urgent requirement. In untangling the Thread of Ariadne above, it is clear that all the parties involved must act immediately, so that Cypriot citizens can enjoy the swift administration of justice, as befits a democratic country.
The content of this article intends to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought on each particular case.
Lawyer, Partner and Director of the Paphos Office of the Law Firm, Michael Kyprianou & Co LLC.