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)