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THE CYPRIOT LEGAL SYSTEM
The purpose of this short article, is to shed a little light on everyday legal matters in Cyprus.
Firstly, I emphasise that the purpose of these articles is explanatory and are not intended to be a legal advice. For any specific or real life issues, I recommend contacting a lawyer.
The Cypriot Legal System
Cyprus gained independence in 1960 from British rule and was recognised internationally as a separate state, known as the Republic of Cyprus. As a consequence of 82 years of British administration, the legal framework of Cyprus is widely based on English law, with a few exceptions where the legal system has followed the Greek (European Continental) legal system. The fundamental areas of law: contract; tort (negligence, personal injury, accidents etc;) evidence; company; crime; to name but a few, are basically carbon copies of the respective English law. However, administrative and family law, have followed the Greek system. Under the Greek system of administrative law, civil rights against all public bodies are protected more widely than the respective rights under English law. Land law is based on the English system, but as was often the case in British colonies, was heavily adapted and some would even say bettered, for Cyprus' purposes.
The main difference between the Cypriot and English legal system that one has to be aware of, is that Cyprus has a written constitution which is the supreme law of the land (after EU law,) whereas the UK has an unwritten constitution which can lead to civil right uncertainties.
The Court System
The court system in Cyprus is governed by the Courts of Justice Law, Law No. 14 /1960.
Firstly dealing with the civil court system, the Courts of Justice Law established 6 District Courts, one for each of the 6 districts of Cyprus (Nicosia, Larnaca, Limassol, Paphos, Famagusta (based in Larnaca) and Kyrenia (not in use.)
If you have a civil dispute, for example with some land you own in Paphos, but you live in the Larnaca district, you (your lawyer) would start the process in the District Court of Paphos. The District Courts have a very wide authority to hear any civil matter (except those covered by specialist courts, see below) and issue judgment. It usually consists of one judge sitting alone but depending on the value of the claim, the case will be tried either by a District Judge, a Senior District Judge or a President of the District Court. The process followed in the District Courts is the adversarial process, where each side presents their side of the story and the judge acts as a referee (as in England.)
Although written statements are common practice in European courts, Cyprus usually uses oral statements, which means the witnesses appear before the court, say what happened and are questioned by the opposing side. If a party to a case is dissatisfied with the decision of a District Judge, he/she has the right to appeal (within a specified time) to the Supreme Court, which is based in Nicosia. Unlike the English system, there are no restrictions to the right to appeal.
The Supreme Court consists of 13 Supreme Court judges. For the purposes of a civil appeal 3 judges will usually sit, but in matters of extreme importance or novel points of law, all 13 judges might sit on a case. The Supreme Court has wide authority to reverse a case, order a retrial, dismiss the appeal or make whatever order it deems appropriate. The Supreme Court is the highest court in Cyprus and the decision it makes is final, unless the case raises matters of European law or Human Rights, whereby there remains the possibility of an appeal to the European courts.
Depending on the severity of the crime committed, it will be tried either by the District Court with one judge sitting alone for less serious cases, or the Assize Court with three judges sitting for more serious cases. The police and the Attorney General's office are usually the authorised public bodies responsible for bringing a criminal prosecution against an individual or company. Under the Constitution, the Attorney General has a wide authority to start or stop any criminal prosecution in Cyprus. As in civil cases, there is a right of appeal without restriction (from both courts) directly to the Supreme Court in which 3 judges will usually sit.
There are a number of specialist courts in Cyprus dealing with Employment, Landlord and Tenant law, Administrative law, Family law, Maritime law and Military law. These courts follow their own rules and procedures, but their decisions are again appealable to the Supreme Court.
All proceedings, in all courts in Cyprus, are conducted in Greek (even if everyone in the court room speaks English) and the services of a translator are used in the cases of non-Greek speaking people. There are no juries in Cypriot courts.
The profession in Cyprus is fused, which means there are no solicitors and barristers, as the Cypriot lawyer fulfils both roles.
To become a lawyer, also known as advocates in Cyprus, one must have a law degree from any university recognised by Cyprus, must complete a year's training with a lawyer with at least five years experience and successfully pass the Cyprus Bar Exams which are usually taken during the training year. After the training is complete and the exams passed, the lawyer is able to start practicing in any area of law, but has no right to appear before the Supreme Court or the Assize Court until he has two years active experience.
Every lawyer in Cyprus has to be a member of the Cypriot Bar Association and is governed by the Code of Professional Conduct. A disciplinary committee investigates any complaints against lawyers.
The Constitution states that in all proceedings every person is entitled to a fair, impartial and speedy determination of their case and to legal representation. Justice in Cyprus is of a very good standard and access to the courts is freely available to everyone.
The Law Offices of George Z. Georgiou is a dynamic, professional practice, consisting of experienced multi-lingual lawyers and legal consultants. It provides the highest standard of legal services to clients, both at home and abroad. A Legal 500 and Chambers firm and the sole Cypriot member of Ius Laboris, the Firm has gained a reputation for excellence and a fast, efficient client service.