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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Rule of Law with Civil Procedure of… 1958? – Interview with G. Erotokritou, Director of Reform and Director of the School of Judges

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Logically – although almost nothing logical is happening in our country anymore – we must be shortly before the vote in the plenary of the House of Representatives, the much-discussed and exhausted reform in the administration of justice & # 8211; Will it be another reform that until it is implemented will have changed the lights in relation to what the paid studies say, how it started and what are the real needs that exist? “The cost from the slowness in the administration of justice and the execution of decisions is too great to the extent that it affects the annual development of the state. In addition to the high cost to the economy and investment, with the trapping of huge funds until a case is settled, there are also very serious social consequences. “All together at the end of the day, they seriously affect the rule of law” notes the former judge of the Supreme Court, George Erotokritou & # 8211; currently director of Reform and Training of the Supreme Court, as well as director of the School of Judges.

Since 1958 & # 8230;

In an interview with “Politis”, Mr. Erotokritou – who emphasizes that he expresses strictly personal views – briefly listed the most serious problems facing the Cypriot justice/courts today: “Undoubtedly the big cancer of the courts are the huge delays , which greatly affect the administration of justice in our country. “Apart from delays, I would say that the second biggest problem is the anachronistic proceedings in the courts, which are slowing down the processing of cases, and thirdly, the lack of effective administration of the courts, mainly due to the lack of infrastructure and appropriate tools for effective administration.” Regarding the procedures in the civil courts, Mr. Erotokritou reminded that they “are governed by the Institutions of Civil Procedure, which were introduced in 1958 and since then little has changed”. These institutions have served us well, he continued, “but after so many years, they need to be modernized so that the process of handling cases that were primarily in the hands of lawyers can be transferred to the hands of the judge, who is now called to judge.” based on the & # 8216; primary purpose & # 8217 ;, which is an innovative change in the new institutions “. The handling of the case should be fair and proportionate, and to ensure this, a number of criteria are set in the institutions that the judge must take into account, he added.

Irish experts

According to the director of Reform, “the administration of the courts is not efficient and everyone involved agrees with that. To improve the situation, the Supreme Court, in its 2016 report, and the Irish experts later suggested, inter alia, such as: in the management of large organizations,

(b) Introduce an electronic justice system (e-justice) so that all proceedings are conducted electronically and without paper,

(c) Introduce an electronic system for recording case law, and

(d) A new Second Instance Court of Appeal is set up “. Or is it a Cypriot patent that we are making?

In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled on its own for the reform of the courts. With his report on “Functional Needs of Courts and Other Related Issues” of 2016, codified the main problems and suggested solutions. The Irish experts from the Institute of Public Administration of Ireland, supported the 2016 report and of course went ahead and suggested other solutions. They made a total of 21 presentations, which we are gradually trying to implement. It is a fact that the implementation pace is very slow, but huge efforts are being made by the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Finance and especially by the Minister of Justice, for the implementation of the pending reform projects. In general, the reform of the courts that we are trying to complete is based solely on our own needs and culture, but at the same time takes into account the best practices that exist today in the judicial systems of other countries, especially those that are considered more advanced.

Caesar's wife

Because Caesar's wife must be and look… fair and incorruptible. How will judges be recruited and promoted?

In the many years that I have served on the Judicial Council, nothing reprehensible has come to my notice, nor do I think it existed. Nevertheless, there have been calls for transparency. That is why the Supreme Court, in the context of the reform, obtained technical assistance from the EU and appointed experts to study the issue. Then, following the recommendations of the experts, it established objective criteria for the recruitment and evaluation of judges, which are applied from 2019. The criteria helped to have full transparency in the whole process. Today the candidates know in advance the procedure and with what criteria they will be judged. The second thing that will be done is the modification of the composition of the Judicial Council, so that with the participation of the Attorney General and the president of the Pancyprian Bar Association, there will be complete transparency. A bill has been pending in Parliament for a long time and I hope it will be passed before the end of its work.

What is the punishment for a judge if he or she has unfairly and/or inadvertently (inadequately) ruled a case?

A judge in any part of the world is not punished if he is found to have committed a mistake in the performance of his duties. Mistakes are human and are often due to subjective approaches. But as I explained to you, mistakes can be corrected on appeal. After all, that is why there is an appeal process. Judges around the world enjoy immunity, which allows them to make decisions freely and without fear of being sued or accused of doing their job. This is part of the independence of the judge and is considered a shield for society. Even disciplinary measures against a judge should be used sparingly, precisely so as not to affect the independence of the judge. And I must emphasize that where judges do not feel completely independent, there is a risk of arbitrariness and tyranny and the rule of law is at stake.

No # guidelines metoo

We often see Cypriot court rulings on child sexual abuse and violence against women, which leave us speechless about the lenient punishments – in the opinion of the people. Asked why this is happening, Giorgos Erotokritou admitted that “indeed, many times the citizens feel that the penalties are insufficient”. He explained that “something that is not always understood is that the imposition of a sentence is one of the most difficult tasks of a judge. The penalties imposed are always related to the offense, related to other offenses and to the specific circumstances of each case. “

Yes, but why is there a difference in sentences? Do not police/investigators/judges specialize in crimes of this nature or is there still the old mentality that wants these crimes not to be so serious (patriarchal society)?
There are many factors that need to be addressed. to be considered by a judge in sentencing and admittedly it is not always easy. Even among the judges themselves, there may be differing views. Perhaps in the past, the penalties for such offenses needed commentary. However, as mentioned in a recent seminar organized by the Cyprus School of Judges in collaboration with the Council “Voice” on “Children – Vulnerable Witnesses” , there is a huge improvement in the handling of cases of child sexual abuse by the Courts, both in the evaluation of cases and in convictions, in detention or in the imposition of restrictive measures until the trial and, yes, in the imposition of sentences. At the same time, however, I should mention that judges abroad have more tools to deal with these admittedly very difficult cases of sexual abuse. For example, in England – apart from the existing legislation – the Sentencing Council has long been established, which with the Sentencing Guidelines it issues, offers valuable help and guidance to judges, always aiming at the uniformity of sentences for similar offenses. In the case of sexual harassment of a child under 13, this offense is divided by the Guidelines into categories, depending on its severity. For example, category 1 includes cases where severe psychological or physical harm, abduction or forced entry into the victim's home is detected. Category 2 includes touching sensitive parts of the victim's body, prolonged detention, severe humiliation of the child, while category 3 includes anything that is not in categories 1 and 2. Then the Guidelines analyze the aggravating factors and give some guidance to judges on how to proceed when sentencing.

In Cyprus?

In our country there are no such guidelines, although the case law has adopted many of them. Judges always try to find the right measure, but it is not an easy task and there have been and will be cases in which criticism is justified, but it should always be in good faith. As for the criticism, I must say that the judges are the only ones who announce all their decisions, publicly and accompany them with a similar reasoning. In addition, all their decisions are subject to appeal. How much more transparent can the judicial decision-making system be? That is why for many years, in most parts of the world, court decisions are not commented on publicly, especially by the other two powers, mainly due to judicial independence. However, the same does not apply to commentary by the media and social media. Today, it is not only the media that comments and does well, but almost all of them have turned into experts and have an opinion, without often their point of view being accompanied by argumentation. Of course, public opinion is always respected, but what bothers me is the complete disrepute, sterile criticism and populism. Nevertheless, I must say that the criticism leveled at judges is milder than that leveled at political and other institutions. However, judges as public servants and guardians of freedom of speech, recognize the need for transparency and fully accept that the exercise of good faith criticism can highlight mistakes and injustices and promote public debate on this issue. Judges have always avoided answering publicly in order to maintain their objectivity and not be forced to enter the arena of controversy. But that also seems to be changing. Where criticism is accompanied by false news or inaccuracies, the judicial authorities, and not every judge personally, try to put the facts in their proper dimension through announcements. That is why the time has come for the Judiciary to have its own spokesperson, in order to help the public better understand some points of a court decision that may not be easily understood.

How much Gods are the “Gods” of the Most High

Asked to comment on what is often discussed at the societal level, whether “the judges of the Supreme Court (sometimes even of the provincial courts) have contact with reality, because sometimes they seem to behave like 'Gods'”, the director of Reform, George Erotokritou, stated that he disagreed with the fact that judges are cut off from society and explained why this claim does not stand, but also how this view prevailed through theology.

But it is not the judges cut off from society? I wonder if this should be the case as part of the impartiality process?

If a judge, either of the Supreme Court or of the district and other courts, loses what we call the “measure of life” , then it will be evident in all his decisions. Especially in Cyprus, judges live normally in society, like all citizens. On the other hand, due to the nature of their function, they are forced, as you rightly point out, to keep some distance in their social contacts, so that they can function impartially. I do not believe that judges behave like “Gods” . This term may come from the old days, when the final judge was usually the religious leader or the king or head of state, who always had the power to impose punishment or to impose their decisions. Another reason why some people jokingly refer to judges as “Gods” , is because the judge has traditionally been perhaps the only one who had the power to judge his fellow man or even sentence him to death. But the judges do not arbitrarily, on the contrary, apply the laws of the state and therefore the implication that they decide when they try is not correct. What impresses me is the religious approach. This is a reference to the hymns during the short Resurrection of Holy Saturday, which states that God at the Second Coming, the first to judge are the judges to whom the hymn refers to “Gods” . The specific verse, which is said immediately after the little Resurrection, states that “God is in the synagogue of Gods, and in the middle he distinguishes Gods….” which has been interpreted as: “God stood in the midst of the assembly of judges, that is, of men to whom he has delegated divine authority; and sitting in the midst of them he will judge these judges. (And He already begins His judgment and asks them 🙂 How long will you utter unjust judgments and be influenced (at the administration of justice) by persons (mightily, but) sinners? You have made just decisions for the orphan and the poor, you have given justice to the insignificant and the unprotected. You have delivered (from prison) the defenseless and the poor; you have delivered him from the hands of the sinner (who oppresses him).

But they (the unjust judges) did not want to know (what responsibility they have towards God who gave them this power), nor did they want to understand (what punishment awaits them for their unjust decisions); they walk in darkness (of injustice) and impersonation); all the foundations that support society will be shaken (from their injustices). I said (through you); you are Gods (receiving the divine power of the judge), all of you are my sons of the Most High. But you (you did not appear worthy of this great honor and because of that) die as common and insignificant people, and you are deposed (from your office) like the first of the lucky ones from the lords “. Of course, all this is not accepted by most lawyers, but it is indicative of how over the centuries the expression you asked me about came about. In any case, judges have a full sense of responsibility.

So far

What has been implemented so far and what is expected to be implemented/pending justice reform?

To date, the study of 6 of the 8 projects funded by the DG Reform of the European Commission and the Council of Europe has been completed and multi-page reports have been published. Some projects have already been implemented, such as the creation of a School of Judges, the training of first trainers, the Creation of Objective Criteria for the Recruitment and Evaluation of Judges, the new Institutions of Civil Procedure approved by the Supreme Court and to be implemented in September 2023. the first phase of training of judges and lawyers in the new Institutions, the creation of a Standing Committee of Institutions, consisting of an equal number of judges and lawyers and a registrar, the creation of an Administrative Court of International Protection for Civil Asylum Seekers and finally the enactment of a law establishing a Commercial Court Naval Court. The remaining projects, which are in an advanced stage of implementation are:

(a) Electronic justice (e-justice),

(b) The handling of overdue cases and appeals ,

(c) The separation of the Supreme Court,

(d) The creation of a Second Instance Court of Appeal, and

(e) The creation of an electronic audio system for recording court proceedings. This project is included in the Recovery and Sustainability Plan and is expected to be completed in about two years.

Of course, there are plans for the construction of the new courthouse, which will house the Nicosia District Court and all Special Jurisdiction Courts.

Late Justice & # 8230;

Will the justice reform we are going to do really address the problem of long delays in the adjudication of cases?

I BELIEVE yes. For the adjudication of late cases, the Supreme Court has drawn up a specific action plan and appointed a former President of the Supreme Court to coordinate the whole work. An Impact Team has also been appointed, consisting of judges of all levels, who deal exclusively with the adjudication of late cases. The whole effort, in my strictly personal opinion, is expected to take around 5 years, until all the overdue cases disappear. With the introduction of the new Institutions of Civil Procedure, it is not expected that there will be delays in the future. The creation of an Independent Court Service will also contribute to this effort, which will drastically change the administration of the courts. Other projects that are expected to help speed up justice include the introduction of e-justice, the audio recording of court proceedings, and the creation of the Second Instance Court of Appeals, which will assist the Supreme Court in adjudicating large volumes. late appeals. The goal should be that in the future all civil cases are heard within 1-2 years at the latest, while criminal cases within a year.

*** Tomorrow Monday, B Part of the interview of G. Erotokritos, which concerns the School of Judges.

Source: politis.com.cy

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