The Council of Ministers gave the green light for the revision of the Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus, so that the English language could be reintroduced in the Cypriot courts.
In its last session last Wednesday (19/01) it examined the proposal of the Minister of Justice and Public Order, Stefis Drakou, which was positive. This proposal concerns the amendment of Article 3 of the Constitution which defines Greek and Turkish as the official languages of the Republic. This article makes explicit provision for how and when the two official languages are used in court proceedings.
International Trade Center…
The proposal was presented to the Council of Ministers on the occasion of the bills under consideration for the establishment of a Commercial Court and a Maritime Court, which, as government officials have repeatedly stated, aim to make Cyprus a strong international trade center. Proponents of promoting the bills accompany their argument with the fact that our island has the 3rd largest naval fleet in Europe and the 11th in the world. Prospects, which must be exploited, always according to what they say.
The ball in Parliament
Now the Parliament has the floor. As is well known, the revision of the Constitution, the supreme law of the state, is one of the most important responsibilities of the parliamentary body. It is noteworthy that from 1963 until 2020 the legislature had reviewed a total of 14 times.
In the measures of the. Constitution
The bill providing for the establishment of a Commercial Court has already been adapted accordingly, in order to be compatible with the forthcoming revision of the Constitution.
In particular, with regard to the provision for the language to be used, the draft states the following: “Subject to paragraph 4 of Article 3 of the Constitution, the Commercial Court may, when the interest of justice so requires, allow the judicial procedure and the registration of the documents in English, at the request of one of the parties and in such a case the judge shall determine the English language as the language in which the proceedings before the Commercial Court are conducted and in which the judgment of the Commercial Court is pronounced. ” .
Judging, however, from the statements that have been recorded in Parliament, there is skepticism about the -visible now- possibility of introducing the English language in the Cypriot courts.
“Submission to the crown…”
It is indicative that when the said bill was first discussed in the parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs last October (27/10/2021), the DIKO MP, Panikos Leonidou, had expressed himself strongly. Speaking to fellow MPs, on the sidelines of the debate, he had spoken of “English lust and submission to the crown.” He wanted to use these descriptions to express his opposition to the possibility of using the international language.
AKEL MP Andreas Passiourtidis had also expressed questions to the minister regarding the use of the English language. He had, in fact, asked the Minister of Justice if he knew what was happening in other countries.
Skepticism was also expressed by Kostis Efstathiou (EDEK). “Language is sacred,” he said, noting that an amendment to the Constitution would be needed to introduce the international language in those courts.
Of course, in October, not only disagreements were expressed over the use of the English language. The vice-president of the Pancyprian Bar Association, George Christofides, had said at the meeting of the parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs, that it is an obligation deriving from the EU and explained that the translation will be simultaneous and will not cause confusion. The statements made by the president of the association, Christos Clerides, were on the same wavelength, who, speaking to representatives of the media, had said, among other things: “The Commercial Court will succeed if the English language is offered as an option to parties. He added that for this purpose the necessary legislative regulations should be made and if necessary the Constitution should be adapted to the conditions of the 21st century “.
If they both want it
At the last session of the parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs last Wednesday (19/01), where the articles of the bill establishing the Commercial Court were discussed, the reactions were not so felt by the deputies, however, some did not hide that they were concerned about the whole issue.
The chairman of the commission, Nikos Tornaritis, however, made a proposal in order for English to be used under certain conditions, ie the Commercial Court to consider whether the trial should be conducted in English if both parties so wish. It is obvious that he tried to reconcile the situation and amuse the possible reactions. Position agreed by Aristos Damianou (AKEL), without, however, expressing a clear position on the use of the English language. He said that the issue of language is also related to the criteria for the appointment of judges, explaining that a good knowledge of English should be a basic condition and therefore a relevant amendment should be made to the draft. Andreas Pasiourtidis (AKEL) had spoken negatively, commenting, among other things, that “it cannot be in English”.
Christiana Erotokritou (DIKO) expressing her personal position, was in favor of the use of English. The same goes for Fotini Tsiridou (DISY). The latter explained that the essence of the bill is for Cyprus to become an international center of trade and added that without the use of the international language, this will not be achieved. He also expressed concern about whether the bill should be amended so that the consent of both parties is required for a trial to be held in English. As he put it, it is possible that “one party abusively refuses to use the English language, just to make it difficult for the other party…”.
The Commissioner for Legislation, Louisa Zannetou, expressed the view that the use of the international language will not violate the right of anyone to attend the proceedings: “It goes without saying that if there are witnesses or anyone who does not understand English, it will be provided interpretation, in the context of the examination of the request to be submitted “.
English in the courts until the late '80s
As paradoxical as it may seem to young people, English was widely used in Cypriot courts until the late 1980s.
An old caravan of the area, narrated to “P” an incident at the beginning of that decade, during which a lawyer was speaking in English, with the result that they were not understood by all those present.
As he told us, a spokesman for the courtroom, who was in the courtroom to cover the trial, interrupted the proceedings in protest. The then judge Michalakis Triantaphyllidis asked the journalist to explain to him why he was reacting. The latter also referred to Montesquieu and that a key component of a fair trial is the publicity of the procedure, which is not guaranteed if it is used in language that is not understood by everyone. Mr. Michalakis Triantaphyllidis, gave clear instructions to continue the trial in Greek…
Particularly informative is an article by lawyer Dr. Pavlos Neophytos Kourtellos dated 10/12/2019. He analyzed on behalf of the website dejure, the bills under discussion (promoted by the then Minister of Justice, Iona Nikolaou), while he made a special reference to the issue of language and its… judicial prehistory.
The article is published under the title “Commercial Court or Justice Trade?” states, inter alia: “Article 189 of the 1960 Constitution provided, in spite of the provisions of Article 3, for a transitional period of 5 years from the date of entry into force of the Constitution that: (a) all those Applicable laws may remain in the English language, and (b) the English language may be in use in any proceedings before any court of the Republic.
After independence and until all the legislation was translated into English until the late 1980s, lawyers still spoke in English in court. The Law on the Official Languages of the Republic L. 67/1988 brought a solution to the pending issue with its consequent amendments where from its preamble with reference to the official languages of the Republic of Cyprus it states that the transitional period of five years based on Article 189 ( b) of the Constitution has expired for more than twenty years and it is not desirable to continue the situation created by the Law on Laws and Courts (Text and Procedure) of 1965.
Article 5 (1) of the above law concerns the submission of documents and provides that in any court proceedings it is accepted as a means of proof and a document written in any foreign language.
The court may, when the interest of justice so requires, order the translation of a document or part of it into the official languages of the Republic or into any of them (Article 5 (2)).
It is rather the rule for judges to ask the parties to arrange for the Greek rendering of a document they have registered even if it is in English, a language that is probably understood by all judges. “An indication of a linguistic patriotism or adherence to the Constitution and the law, the fact brings honor to our judges but also to the language”.
Perdikis: “This is a idiot”
However, regardless of the issue of the establishment of the Commercial Court, our familiarity with English sometimes goes far beyond the bounds of indecency.
It is indicative that the Law on the Election of the President and Vice President of the Republic of Cyprus since 1960 had not been translated into Greek in its entirety. The text of the law, that is, was presented in two languages.
This omission was identified by the MP for many years with the Movement of Ecologists – Citizens' Cooperation, George Perdiki, who had taken measures to restore this “idiot”, as he had described him.
On August 26, 2020, he had sent a letter to the Commissioner of Legislation, Louisa Zannetou, and strongly pointed out the phenomenon, emphasizing the need not only to translate the law in question, as he described it, but all the laws of the Republic of Cyprus.
Ms. Zannetou had responded positively to Mr. Perdikis's remark (03/09/2020), while finally the law for the first citizen of the state was translated in the summer of 2021, with the Commissioner for Legislation informing on 23 / 08/2021. They are over 60 years old…
In his initial letter, Mr. Perdikis pointed out the following: “With this letter I inform you of the urgent need to translate into Greek all the laws of the Republic of Cyprus. It is not possible in 2020 and as we go through the 60th year of the Republic of Cyprus, its emblematic laws – such as the Law on the Election of the President and Vice President of the Republic of Cyprus – be in English, which as you know is not one of the two official languages of the Republic of Cyprus.
Therefore, I suggest that you make the abolition of the law and the submission of a new one (in view of the 2023 presidential elections), which is in the Greek language, as your immediate priority. It is noted that all the amendments made since then to the same law, are in the Greek language.
That is, we have an emblematic law, the law for the election of the first citizen of the Republic of Cyprus – the highest office – and he is in a form where some articles are in English and some in Greek. In other words, this is a joke with all the meaning of the word.
I hope you will do something soon to rectify this situation as of course for other relevant laws of the Republic of Cyprus where they appear in English or bilingual “.
The former MP, despite the initially positive response of Ms. Zannetou to his letter, had returned with a new letter in December 2020 (21/12): “I will follow the progress of your effort to modernize the legislation and especially the one regarding the Presidential elections. and Vice President of the Republic of Cyprus Nomos, who -among other problems- has the peculiarity of being bilingual. The fact that the law concerning the election for the highest office of the Republic of Cyprus to be partly in a language that is not an official language of the Republic of Cyprus does not concern us. So I expect that this issue will be the first in the course that you will follow “.