The Supreme Court of Cyprus pronounces on the way that international conventions should be interpreted

Posted on 13 May 2020, by Menelaos Kyprianou

In a recent judgment issued in the context of a certiorari (prerogative order) application, and in which the writer was involved, the Supreme Court of Cyprus examined the following issues:

  • How service of court documents relating to a pending Cyprus case can be effected on a person residing in Russia on the basis of the European Convention on Mutual Assistance on Criminal Matters (‘the Convention’).
  • The way in which international conventions should be interpreted.

As regards the first issue the court noted that in the case in question service had been attempted by the Cyprus Ministry of Justice which had served the court documents directly at an address allegedly belonging to the accused in Russia. The Supreme Court held that this was not an acceptable method of service since the Convention provides that service must be effected via the appointed state authorities of each country. In this case the Cyprus Ministry of Justice should therefore have sent the court documents to the Russian Ministry of Justice and it was the Russian Ministry of Justice that should have served the court documents at the address of the accused in Russia. Further formalities provided for in the Convention meant to ensure that the addressee did in fact receive the court documents, had not been met either.

More important however are the general observations that the Supreme Court of Cyprus made on the way that international treaties should be interpreted.

The Supreme Court noted that a violation of the sovereign rights of a foreign state occurs when service of court documents is effected on its territory in a manner that the foreign state had not expressly agreed to. Moreover, and invoking in this respect the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, the Supreme Court held that international treaties must be interpreted in good faith and bearing in mind their general subject matter and aims. Also, that in interpreting international treaties the principle of restrictive interpretation is applicable. This means that in case of doubt international treaties must be interpreted in a way that ensures that no obligations are imposed on a foreign state unless it had clearly and expressly agreed to assume these.