Face to Face Co-Operation: GRECO Commission on Cypriot Justice

Posted on 18 Feb 2019, by Savvas Savvides

It is common knowledge that the issues that concern Cypriot justice at the moment and the discussion that takes place around the arrival of GRECO on the island have without a doubt occupied all the disciplines of legal science.

What exactly does the arrival of GRECO entail, how does this Commission work and what are the previous recommendations for Cyprus, are all issues that will be discussed extensively below.

The first key question that needs to be answered is what is the GRECO Commission?

GRECO comes from the original saying "Go For Zero Corruption" and is comprised of 49 member states (48 European States and the United States of America). It was established in 1999 by the Council of Europe to monitor the compliance of States with the organisations anti-corruption standards. The aim of the GRECO Commission is primarily to improve the ability of its members to combat corruption, always in accordance with the standards of the Council of Europe, through a dynamic process of mutual evaluation and pressure on the members.

It is therefore reasonable for someone to ask how GRECO examines the compliance process of its members.

This is accomplished through the report it prepares, accompanied by supporting documents submitted 18 months prior to the approval of the evaluation report of the member under scrutiny.

With regards to the case of Cyprus, it will be viewed what recommendations have been made by GRECO and whether the Cypriot Government actually observes these recommendations.

In the beginning of April 2015, the Parliamentary Committees of Institutions and Legal Affairs of Parliament met with a Commission Expert Group on issues of prevention of corruption of members of Parliament, the Judges and Prosecutors. The then Chairman of the Committee of Institutions, Nikos Nikolaidis, stated in an interview that the procedures were discussed with the GRECO Commission, i.e. the obligation for members to declare their incomes, their financial obligations every 3 years and set out the procedure that must be followed to check for the issue of inconsistency.

It should be noted that, after the meeting in April 2015, GRECO in December 2016 in an interim report on Cyprus, said in a very diplomatic way, that although more had to be done, Cyprus had made progress on the issues discussed in April 2015.

It is therefore reasonable to conclude, that since 2015 when the recommendations were made, we did not apply all of GRECO's suggestions. I would also mention that we have not fully implemented GRECO's recommendations. I must say, however, that, in the assessments made in March 2018, there were, among other things, recommendations for stricter measures to ensure that the provisions on criminalizing corruption become more easily accessible for reasons of legal certainty and to create a single legal framework for criminalizing and sanctioning corruption offences, in accordance with the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption.

As far as the judiciary is concerned, have any recommendations been followed?

In the June 2018 evaluation report, GRECO sounded the alarm and placed the judiciary in Cyprus under the microscope, as it made sixteen recommendations on Cyprus’s compliance and corruption prevention, in terms of the members of the Parliament, the Judges and the Public Prosecutor's Office, from which only two of them were complied by the Republic of Cyprus.

Indeed, from all the issues of complaints that have been placed in the spotlight, people get the impression that there is corruption at all levels of society and in all the bodies of power, including that of the judiciary.

Allow me at this stage to disagree with this position. The Cypriot Public Corruption Perception Index has been heavily affected in recent years. The various scandals that have come to the surface with those persons in state posts, such as inter alia, former Mayors and the former Assistant Advocate General, have influenced the way that the Cypriot citizen perceives the issue of corruption. Fortunately, however, there have been many positives and the fact that people in State positions have been brought to justice, makes me want to believe that this has partly reinforced people’s perceptions in the justice system.

I must say, however, that generally as a state and as citizens of the Republic of Cyprus, unfortunately we still tend to regard corruption as part of the system, and even as necessary for our basic survival. This is particularly regrettable, bearing in mind that as Cypriots we possess one of the highest academic education rates in the whole of Europe.

The events, as they are at present, however, are crucial. Greco's arrival will require reforms in the field of justice and I dare say that, just as the Troika did in an unprecedented and severe way in 2013, this is what Greco is expected to do with its arrival into Cyprus.

It is understandable that we have failed to comply with the GRECO reports and because of this failure and our non-compliance we have now reached the point where the judiciary of Cyprus is under the microscope and in the hands of GRECO. It will be really hard to see GRECO implement, in a severe way, something that we, having the luxury of time, should have done on our own a very long time ago.

How will GRECO do this and why is it being associated with the Troika? How can a member of the EU achieve a hard-to-reach compliance?

When GRECO makes recommendations, it comes back to check whether these recommendations have been implemented and never leaves a country in peace until these recommendations have been implemented. When a country ignores the recommendations, or even if it does legislate, but does not implement them, GRECO's role is to continue by pressing through reports. If no changes are made, the second step is to approach the country's Foreign Minister and if this also does not work, to hold a meeting with the political leaders. If this has no effect either, then it has the option of making a public statement adopted by all the other members, in order to expose the country, bringing repercussions on its reputation and consequently on its economy. Of course, so far, GRECO has not reached the point of taking these steps, because countries so far have been complying with their recommendations.

In fact, the assistance of GRECO will be substantial and the restoration of the image of Cypriot justice should be shortly attained. But let us hope that we do not reach the final point, as was the case in 2013 with the bail-in, where we were the first case of this nature and Cyprus was essentially Troika’s experimentation.

The content of this article intends to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought on each particular case.

For any further information, please contact Mr Savvas Savvides at savvas.savvides@kyprianou.com or contact number 26930800.

Lawyer, Partner and Director of the Paphos Office of the Law Firm, Michael Kyprianou & Co LLC.