Niki Agrotou

Renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding between the University of Cyprus and Oxygen for Democracy

The University of Cyprus and Oxygen for Democracy (Oxygono) renewed their Memorandum of Cooperation on Monday, April 8, 2024. On behalf of the University of Cyprus, the Memorandum was signed by the Rector, Professor Tassos Christofidis, and on behalf of Oxygono, the President of the Board, Mrs. Georgia Athanassiou , a graduate of the Law Department of the University of Cyprus.

The purpose of the Memorandum, which was signed for the first time in 2016, is to improve the policy-making process in Cyprus and more broadly, with the active participation of the academic community in it.

The most important activity foreseen by the Memorandum is the co-organisation of the Cyprus Forum, the largest policy-making conference in Cyprus, which will take place this year on October 3 and 4, 2024 in Nicosia.

Among other things, the Memorandum provides for joint participation in research programs financed by the Research and Innovation Foundation, the European Union and other research funding bodies. The cooperation and co-organisation of the Cyprus Forum with the University of Cyprus, the leading academic institution in Cyprus, is a great honor for Oxygen for Democracy as it will lead, among other things, to the improvement of the content of the conference.

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3rd Symposium of the Procedural Law Unit of the School of Law of the University of Nicosia: Modernisation of Cyprus Courts of Paramount Importance

Key interventions, noteworthy recommendations, and valuable insights for modernizing Cypriot courts were the focus at the 3rd Symposium of the Procedural Law Unit of the School of Law of the University of Nicosia

The symposium, held successfully on Friday, December 15, 2023, emphasized the need for optimal court functionality in a rapidly evolving world. Under the theme “The 21st Century Court: Staff and Equipment,” it addressed the pressing issues faced by Cypriot courts today. Discussions centred on the vital modernisation of Cypriot court operations.

A main takeaway, highlighted by both local and international speakers, is the critical need for ongoing structural reforms. These reforms aim to enhance and streamline Cypriot court operations, thereby improving the justice delivery process, a key aspect of Cypriot society and sustainable growth.

Nikos Tornaritis, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs, noted that efforts to modernize courts through constitutional amendments represent progress in moving away from a previously rigid and dysfunctional system, as European comparisons have shown.

Louiza Christodoulidou Zannetou, Law Commissioner, emphasized the necessity for courts to leverage technology for justice access and improved communication within the justice system.

Michalis Vorkas, President of the Cyprus Bar Association, remarked that the prestige of Cyprus’ justice system has been historically affected. He called for a constructive dialogue and broader societal discussion for effective action, stressing that “justice that is independent but delayed does not fulfil its mission.”

At the symposium, Achilleas Emilianides, Dean of the Law School at the University of Nicosia, pointed out significant infrastructure challenges affecting even basic operations like court records, urging immediate resolution.

The event featured speakers such as Angelos Binis (European Commission), Rafaella Hadjikyriakou (Council of Europe), Julinda Beqiraj (Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law), Anni Pantazi-Lamprou (European Prosecutor), and Theano Mavromoustaki (Attorney General’s Office).

A key segment of the Symposium involved presenting and analysing a quantitative opinion survey on the quality of justice in Cyprus. Conducted by IMR for the second year, the survey revealed:

  • 79% feel little or no satisfaction with Cyprus’ justice system (75% in 2022).
  • The biggest issue identified was “Corruption – Prevalence of Middleman” at 60% (51% in 2022).

In terms of trust, participants rated University Law Schools highest (65%), followed by Judges (46%), Law Office of the Republic (38%), Cyprus Bar Association (35%), Lawyers (32%), Ministry of Justice and Public Order (31%), and the Parliamentary Legal Committee (28%).

The symposium was a joint effort by Oxygen for Democracy and the Cyprus Bar Association, coordinated by Dr. Anna Em. Pleuris, Lawyer and Assistant Professor of Civil Procedure, School of Law, University of Nicosia and Director of the Procedural Law Unit, and Dr. Nicolas Kyriakides, Lawyer, Adjunct Faculty, School of Law, University of Nicosia and co-Director of the Procedural Law Unit.” 

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Cyprus Forum 2023: Transparency

For the 4th consecutive year, Cyprus Forum took place on the 29 & 30th of September 2023, in Nicosia Cyprus. This year, with a new format divided in 4 thematic stages, the Forum focused on the theme of transparency, along with topics of foreign policy, economy, peacebuilding and democracy.

Under the auspices of the Presidency and co-organised with the Delphi Economic Forum, the Cyprus Forum follows its lead, and envisions to have its actions and conclusions from the discussions to become catalysts towards positive change, while also collaborating and taking inspiration from other forums such as Globsec, the Paris Peace Forum, etc.

As the Cyprus Forum touches upon different themes and areas; its synergies and collaborations with other fora and organisations it’s what keeps it evidence-based and viable. The Forum partnered this year with a wide variety of think tanks, organisations, institutions which elevated the quality of the discussion; partners include the European Commission, European Parliament, United Nations, World Bank, Bruegel, PRIO, the Atlantic Council, the Center For European Reform, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Transparency International, Cyprus Institute, Center for Social Innovation etc.

Our e-Report is coming soon, with an analytical overview of the panels, content and conclusions that were reached during the 60 hours of discussions, among our 200+ speakers. For more information on our conference and speakers, visit our website: https://2023.cyprusforum.cy

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Rule of Law in Cyprus: Self-criticism and constructive attitude are required

The European Commission issued on July 5 2023 the report on the Rule of Law in the Republic of Cyprus, which calls on our Republic to carry out reforms that are compliant and consistent with European Principles and standards. As can be seen from the references in the Report, Oxygono (NGO) contributed to highlighting fundamental problems for the Rule of Law during the process of submission of opinions.

In particular, our organisation contributed to highlighting the following issues: 

(a) The bill on the autonomy of the Legal Service, which has been tabled in Parliament, does not provide for a clear distinction between an advisory and prosecutorial role.

(b) There is no institutional counterweight regarding the review of the decisions of the Attorney General in cases of prosecution or non-prosecution. 

(c) There are still serious challenges regarding the effectiveness of the judiciary, especially regarding delays and the recruitment and evaluation of judges. 

(d) Further action is required to make progress on public consultations, implementation of legislation regulating lobbying, etc. 

As far as the evaluation of the report is concerned, first of all we must look at it through a lens of self-criticism, however without strong criticisms from either side. That was not the atmosphere at the meeting of the Committee on Institutions, on 12 July 2023, where the report's findings were discussed. Even if we were high in the transparency indicators, we should still seek to improve, especially now that we rank towards the last places. The fight against corruption is important, on the one hand because when there is meritocracy and transparency, it is well established in the literature that states prosper. On the other hand, in a rule of law there is social cohesion, fewer disputes, while our image abroad will be reliable. 

As mentioned in the summary of the chapter on Cyprus, some of the main recommendations recorded are the following:   

(a) strengthening the independence and accountability of the prosecution authority, inter alia by providing the possibility to review decisions of the Attorney General not to prosecute or to suspend proceedings, taking into account the European principles of independence and autonomy of the prosecution;   

(b) ensuring that the newly created Independent Anti-Corruption Authority has the financial resources, personnel and technical capabilities and resources to effectively fulfill its mandate;   

(c) adopting a framework for effective and timely stakeholder consultation on the legislative process, and ensuring its implementation.   

Regarding the progress that has been made in relation to the 2022 Report, it stands out that no progress was recorded in relation to the establishment of transparency rules for the assets of elected officials so that there is a regular and complete registration of the data that are fully and regularly confirmed. The debate on the matter will continue in Parliament in the Autumn. 

However, significant progress is being made in ensuring that reforms to the way judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court are appointed are in line with relevant European principles and the opinion of the Venice Commission. There is also some progress in reforming the composition of the Supreme Judicial Council and ensuring that it is consistent with the same principles. Some progress has still been made in improving the effectiveness of the investigation and adjudication of high-level corruption cases, including by strengthening the Office of the Attorney General and its financial independence.   

Some progress is also recorded in relation to strengthening regulations to improve the independence of public media, as well as improving the framework for public consultation in the legislative process. 

In our view, the most important issue raised in the Report is that of the absence of control mechanisms of the Attorney’s Office. Our suggestion is to immediately request technical assistance from the European Commission and the Council of Europe, as was rightly done during the justice reform process.  

Oxygono has set up a team of experts from Cyprus and abroad for further scientific analysis of the problems for the rule of law arising from the unchecked powers of the Attorney’s Office and investigation of the most ideal possible control mechanisms. The findings of this work will be presented, among other issues related to the rule of law, at the Cyprus Forum 2023, which will take place on 29 and 30 September.

As an organisation, we welcome all the reform efforts made so far that contribute to the realization of the goals for a real rule of law in Cyprus, such as judicial reform, the appointment of independent officers in the Anti-Corruption Authority and the legislative regulation of lobbying activity.   

By Dr. Nicolas Kyriakides (co-founder of Oxygono), Giorgos Isaias (Executive Director of Nomoplatform) and Michalis Tsangaridis (External Partner of Oxygono, Student of political and economic sciences at Princeton University)

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