NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus’ judges need to draw up a detailed code of conduct that spells out rules on key issues, including when they should recuse themselves in order to avoid any perceptions of bias or conflict of interest, a top European anti-corruption official said Friday.
Martin Mrcela, chief of the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) said the code should be “enforceable” and cover in detail areas such as gifts, third-party contacts and handling of confidential information.
He said GRECO will examine a guide of conduct Cyprus’ Supreme Court unveiled last month, but repeated that his group isn’t looking for a general statement of principles.
“This is about credibility and trust,” Mrcela told a news conference at the end of a two-day evaluation. “The standard says the judge must be impartial and not only impartial but also independent and seen as such.”
Mrcela also urged more transparency in judges’ appointments based on publicly available criteria. He said a body overseeing judges’ appointments should be more inclusive so that it doesn’t reflect the Supreme Court’s composition to avert perceptions of “self-protection and cronyism.” Career-long ethics and corruption prevention training for judges should also be enacted.
Mrcela said Cyprus failed to implement four recommendations GRECO made in 2016 that aimed at strengthening the judiciary’s anti-corruption firewall. He said GRECO member states are obligated to follow through on implementation.
Mrcela’s remarks came less than a month after Cyprus’ attorney general stirred up controversy when he suggested that judges’ familial and professional links to a law firm that handled cases involving the country’s biggest bank gave off the impression of favouritism and skewed rulings.
Attorney General Costas Clerides suggested that in two such cases, the judges didn’t recuse themselves even though their family members worked at the law firm representing senior Bank of Cyprus officials.
Indignant Supreme Court judges said they’re “particularly sensitive” to the composition of the bench and dismissed the allegations as unfounded and an unfair attack on the judiciary’s integrity that deeply eroded public trust.
Mrcela said although no conclusions can safely be drawn from a couple of cases, they could indicate that the system “is not the perfect one.” He said the same standards apply to all countries irrespective of size.
Cyprus’ Justice Ministry is working on judicial reform legislation that includes the setting-up of new courts to speed up rulings.