CYPRUS: GRECO expects progress in anti-corruption standards

The Council of Europe’s anti-corruption watchdog expects to see some progress in the implementation of standards, many of which have not yet been applied, especially in the judiciary.

Invited to Cyprus to probe allegations of foul play, conflict of interest and lack of transparency among judges, where recent reports have suggested that high court officials have not recused themselves in cases involving family members, the President of the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) said that the body does not have investigating powers.

However, Marin Mrcela, Chairman of GRECO met with the judges of the High Court and the Judges’ Union on Friday, after which he made statements to the press saying that, the body expects to see progress and Cyprus complying with its recommendations.

A day earlier, GRECO’s Executive Secretary Gianluca Esposito told parliament that Cyprus needs to develop a mechanism for tackling and preventing corruption in the judiciary system, said, Executive Secretary of the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body GRECO, during an ad hoc visit to Nicosia on Thursday.

Making it clear that the body’s recommendations are binding on member states participating in GRECO, Esposito said that Cyprus has acted on just two out of 16 recommendations issued in 2016.

Esposito was addressing the Parliamentary Ways and Means Committee, at the start of a two day visit which came after cases of conflict of interest involving the high officials of the country’s judiciary system were reported.

GRECO’s Executive Secretary said that out of 16 recommendations included in the 2016 GRECO report on Cyprus, only two were implemented and yet not fully. Of these, the four concerning the judiciary have not been implemented so far.

Esposito pointed out the need for a code of conduct for judges that will address the issue of conflict of interest, noting that he had been informed of the adoption of such a code by the island’s Supreme Court. He clarified that the group will be able to evaluate it once it is translated into English.

He said GRECO has issued recommendations on how to handle conflict of interest in the judiciary system.

Commenting on reforms currently underway, he said that GRECO finds them to be on the right path, but these cannot take place over night, noting that transparency is the key element for the success of the project.

The GRECO officials had meetings with all legal institutions, such as the Attorney General, the Cyprus Bar Association and the Justice Minister, Ionas Nicolaou.

The Justice Minister countered GRECO’s comments non-conformity with their recommendations, saying that Cyprus was complying with all recommendations made by the body.

The government has fully complied with all the recommendations that have been made during the third evaluation round and has been praised for its actions in 2018, Nicolaou said.

He added that the government welcomes the cooperation with GRECO and the constructive role it has been demonstrating over time in dealing with the phenomenon of corruption.

The Minister said that he has informed GRECO that the government has set in motion a series of reforms for the justice system, adding that relative legislation needs to be voted in as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the people’s trust in the country’s judiciary system is at a three-year low according to a survey conducted by RAI on behalf of Stockwatch. According to the survey, the judiciary system did not make the grade in January this year, as some 600 households graded their trust to the institution with 5.1 out of 10, dropping from 5.5 in September 2018. A year earlier, the courts were given a six out of 10.

Although this should not be a comfort for the country’s courts, people’s average confidence to 16 state institutions and institutions is roughly at the same level. The 16 institutions scored an average of 5.04 out of 10, with their previous rating regarding people’s trust standing at 4.97 is September 2018.

According to the survey, the University of Cyprus scored the highest with 7.9 out of 10, with the Auditor General coming in second with 6.8, increasing his score from 6.6 in September 2018.

Source: The Financial Mirror