Strasbourg, 1 February 2005
CCJE (2005) 7
Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE)
Questionnaire on theme “Justice and society”: Reply submitted by the delegation of Cyprus
The Educational Role of the Courts in a Democracy.
1. & 2. No formal arrangements exist in Cyprus aiming at informing justice users and/or the general public about the functioning of the judicial system. However access to justice is constitutionally entrenched and is open to all. Any citizen may watch any trial civil or criminal without the prior leave of the judge or the Court administrators, except where the Court for reasons of public policy or where the anonymity of persons is essential, as in a rape case, decides to exclude the public and hold the proceedings in camera.
The Supreme Court holds from time to time conferences in the presence of the media explaining the way the Courts handle the ever increasing number of cases filed in both the civil and the criminal jurisdiction and provide a general overview of the system.
Although there is no Law School as yet at the Cyprus University, it is envisaged that with its introduction in the future, it will assume an active role in arranging ways of informing the public at large about the workings of the justice system.
Also the Judges’ Association and the Lawyers’ Association can take active steps towards the above goal. The Police association and the Ministry of Justice are in close contact with the Court functionaries relating to the information needs, especially, of policy makers. The Supreme Court also acts as a channel and attends parliamentary committees at the House of Representatives when the occasion arises regarding the information needs of the whole judicial system, including budgetary matters, administration and infra-structure necessities.
A 3. All judicial decisions of the Supreme Court are published and are made available on a fee, by the Government Printing Office to any interested person(s). As the whole judicial text is published, the report is wholly accurate.
Judicial decisions of lower Courts are also published but on a selective basis either officially or by the lawyer’s associations or by private lawyers who undertake the task.
A 4 & 5. No education programmes exist in schools, higher education institutions or the university for a description of the judicial system. However once a year senior students participate in a placement week in order to have first hand knowledge of various professions as part of professional orientation programmes. Those interested are placed at a lawyer´s office and are obliged to visit the Courts and attend hearings of all levels, thus having at least a brief overview of the workings of the system.
As far as liaison officers are concerned, this role is undertaken by the Registrar of each District Court under the guidance of the Supreme Court Chief Registrar.
A 6. No theoretical studies exist in Cyprus with regard to “outreach programmes” or conducting surveys holding focus groups or public fora
B. The Relations of the Courts with those Involved in Court Proceedings
B 1-3. As Cyprus bases its system on the Anglo-Saxon Common Law, judges are selected from amongst the ranks of qualified and experienced advocates. This selection process tends to put on the bench more mature persons age-wise, although the average age is much lower than the one obtained in England & Wales. Judges therefore but also lawyers and Court Staff are well versed into treating all litigants equally and impartially without regard to race, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status.
There have seen no reported incidents of distrust in the Court system and process by reason of any of the above.
One of the aspects of the Anglosaxon system is that appearance wise, all litigants are placed in the Court room on the same footing and at the same level. In a civil trial, for example, the lawyers take their seats in front and lower from the bench at the same level. More importantly, in a criminal trial, the prosecutor also has his seat placed at the same level as the defence and at the same level as the dock of the accused person, who always, with no exception whatsoever, appears in Court or before a Judge, free although he may be in detention. Other safety measures such as the presence of police officers ensure that at the end of the trial or the particular Court session, the accused will be returned to prison.
A witness who takes the oath of telling the truth may do so swearing on the Holy Bible, or the Koran, if he belongs to the muslim community, or may simply take an affirmation if he does not, for any personal reason, wish to take an oath. Language-wise all proceedings are conducted in the Greek language with a simultaneous translation into the language of the accused or the witness, a right that is constitutionally safeguarded to the extent that if not followed, the proceedings will be declared a nullity on appeal, and, especially in a criminal trial, the accused will be acquitted. Since the partial reopening of the cease-fire frontlines of 1974, Turkish-Cypriot lawyers who have their names enrolled with the Supreme Court Register as practicing lawyers often appear at trials, mainly criminal ones, and may conduct their examination and cross-examination in the Turkish language (recognized in the Constitution as the other official language, the first being Greek) with a simultaneous translation provided.
Moreover, all Turkish Cypriots have now free access to all Courts and all government offices of the Republic for all official business and special measures have been taken to ensure that their applications are dealt with quickly and efficiently while translators are always available for interpretation purposes. All District Courts which Turkish Cypriots attend on a regular basis are manned by bilingual personell (Greek and Turkish) employed especially to deal with such growing demands.
Although no audio-visual presentations have been developed for providing to public and litigants alike previews or information of what to expect from Court life, due to the relatively small population of Cyprus, most people are aware of Court proceedings, systems etc and are not in any way taken aback when confronted with the litigation process. Judges and Court staff as well, due to their experience are always helpful in dealing with people that might not know their exact rights and obligations. Legal aid programmes are widely available especially in criminal cases, but also where proceedings involve human rights issues, family status and matrimonial ancillary relief, recognition of illegitimate children etc., thus enabling litigants in financial distress to have ready access to justice or have a lawyer of their choice for defence purposes. It should be added that recently the right to and the mechanics of the legal aid system in Cyprus have been included in the European Union´s internet site.
C. The Relations of the Courts with the Public
Ci (1-3): Due to the Anglosaxon Common Law System followed in Cyprus since its independence in 1960, the Judge and the Courts in general follow the traditional way of not entering the arena of the litigation, thus maintaining to the maximum possible degree the impartiality, and independence duties of Judges. However, it is well recognized that a more direct or informal interaction between the Courts and the public is of equal importance so that various Court proceedings and cases are not left to the discretion of the media as to how to present a case or Court proceeding.
The Supreme Court Registry has an assistant who deals directly, if need be, with the media and the public. Moreover, the Supreme Court may issue an announcement on a sensitive issue that affects justice or where the facts of a particular situation need to be set out correctly and in their true perspective.
In Criminal cases where the proceedings are held in camera and to the exclusion of the media, the Court invariably issues a short announcement regarding the basic issues, summary of the evidence and the outcome of a case that may be of a general interest to the public.
The Supreme Court is currently setting an internet site where, apart from decided cases, general information on the judicial system, will be provided. Also a Legal Information Site is to be set up containing all judgments.
C 4-7: There are no formal restrictions to the right of information in the field of judicial activity except the ones provided by specific legislation or regulations regarding the dissemination of information that is considered private and of no use to the public at large. For example, the Civil Procedure Rules do not allow the inspection of a court file or access thereto by persons other than the parties themselves and their lawyers. Search into a civil file is only permitted on special grounds or reasons shown by the applicant and only under the specific directions of the Administrative President of the Court, or the Judge dealing with the case and on such terms as are deemed appropriate.
In criminal cases the same rules applies and no deposition of witnesses, or exhibits are available to anyone not having a direct interest in the case itself. The media are precluded from entering court premises with video-cameras or audio machines and are also precluded by law from photographing or video-recording suspects that are taken to Court by the police for remand purposes pending the investigation of a suspected criminal offence, and are also precluded from publishing the names of suspects in certain circumstances, in order to protect their constitutionally entreched right of presumption of innocence until proven guilty by a Court of law.
Apart from the above, the media may enter any Court room watch and follow any case of whatever nature, and may take appropriate notes for reporting purposes.
As far as civil liability for libel and slander is concerned, any person that may feel that his reputation has been attacked unfairly and unjustly may bring a defamation action specifying the monetary scale of damages involved. An injunction relief is available usually on an ex-parte basis in order to stop further publications especially where the publication is of a continuing nature. Such an interlocutory injunction puts a half to further defamatory material being published thus maintaining the status quo ante until trial. Non-compliance with such an order is a contempt of Court and is punished by imprisonment and/or a fine.
Although theoretically a mandatory interlocutory order could be asked for the seizure of publications, this is never in practice done in civil cases. In contrast in criminal matters it may be possible to confiscate illegal material thus preventing its further circulation such as pornographic publications exhibited and made available publicly to minors. Damages awarded by the Courts in recent years have increased tremendously in recognition of the need to protect reputation and privacy rights and Courts may also award exemplary and/or punitive damages where it is considered proper to do so, as, for example, where the newspaper involved acts maliciously and systematically publishes defamatory material against the plaintiff.
Damages awarded follow the criteria laid down in the English defamation case-law and tend to be higher if the person whose fame is attacked is a public figure while it might be lower where the circulation of the particular publication is limited in scope or where the plaintiff is of a general bad reputation.
All persons are treated alike in the eyes of the law whether private individuals or public figures and protection of private life is afforded to all on an equal footing.
Journalists act under a published code of professional ethics and are expected to act fairly and report accurately on the facts of any court proceedings. If facts reported are inaccurate or the opinions stated on the facts as presented is false or malicious or an unfair attack on a person, then the journalist as well as his newspaper and the distributor may face a defamation action with all the consequences. A journalist is also expected to quote his sources, if official, and is well advised to check the veracity of all other information obtained from private sources. He could also be liable if the information is false in any event, even if the journalist quotes his sources.
In Criminal law there used to be, sparingly, however, prosecutions for criminal libel, difficult by their nature to prove.
By an amendment in the Criminal Code in 2003, criminal libel has been abolished as an offence, together with matters relating to cases where publications of defamatory matters are considered absolutely privileged or conditionally privileged. The repeals affect only the criminal side of defamation. Such matters remain valid defences in any civil action. What is left in the Criminal Code is criminal liability for any act done in public with intent to alter the sovereinghty of the Republic or incite hatred between communities and religious groups by reason of their different race, religion, colour or gender. There is also criminal liability attached to the publication of false news which might impair public order or the confidence of the public in the state or its organs or to cause fear or concern to the public or disturb in any way public peace. Such prosecutions can only be instituted with the written consent of the Attorney-General. Publications concerning any army camps, works of defence, military stores etc. is also prohibited.
If a Judge or a Court is attacked by the press for reasons connected with the administrations of justice, the Supreme Court, the Association of Judges and the Lawyer’s associations may come forth, with certain press announcements or explanatory information, but otherwise the Judge himself is free, if he so wishes, to institute civil proceedings for defamation. However, in practice this has never been done in view of the eventual compromise of the Judge’s position in relation to the way he administers justice.
D. A Judge may not give a mere oral judgment as under the Constitution Art. 30, par.2, every judgment “shall be reasoned and pronounced in public session”. A right of appeal is safeguard in every civil or criminal case and therefore even if the judgment is pronounced orally it will need to be reduced to writing either for the purposes of an appeal or merely for the benefit of the litigant, who is entitled to have such a copy of the judgment while in criminal cases he also has the right to have such a copy free of any charge.
The way a judgment is set out and the language used is left up to the individual Judge. However, any judgment must contain an accurate summary of the disputed facts as evidenced by the pleadings (in civil actions) and the testimony of witnesses (in both civil and criminal cases), an adequate exposition of the law obtained in the specific case and a judicial final pronouncement as to the facts found by the Court to be correct and true in the circumstances and whether these facts entitle the plaintiff to judgment. If damages are in issue, the judgment must contain the way and the method, including calculations if needed, the Court uses to arrive at a particular figure and explain whether interest should be added or not to a specific sum of money. Costs usually follow the event, but if the Court for some reason decides not to award costs or make a different order than the usual, the reasons must be adequately explained.