§ 11:1 Description of system of law

The modern law of the Republic of Cyprus has its origins in a wide variety of different legal systems reflecting the island's turbulent historical past prior to its gaining independence in 1960.

When the Franks conquered Cyprus in 1192, they brought with them a feudal system of law which was not codified but based on custom. The Franks discovered that a system of law already existed on the island and this was based on Greco-Roman customary law which had been developed by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The Franks adopted the existing law into their own feudal laws and developed a system of laws called Assizes.

The Ottoman Turks, who conquered the island in the late 16th century, brought with them the Ottoman Laws and, in particular, the Ottoman Penal Code, Civil Code and Land Code which covered most of the land and penal laws. Family matters were dealt with by Islamic law with respect to the Muslim population of the island while the ecclesiastical courts of the Greek Orthodox Church had supreme authority over the Christian Greek population of the island.

The British, who effectively controlled Cyprus from the late 19th century, introduced English law to the island and, in particular, common law rules and principles and rules of equity, as well as a number of statutes which were in force in England at the time.

When Cyprus became independent in 1960, the Constitution of the new Republic provided that the laws previously applicable should remain in force until repealed or amended by new laws of the Republic. Since independence, myriad laws have been enacted, but the common law still plays an important part in the administration of justice on the island, in particular in relation to commercial matters.

Under Article 1 of the Constitution of Cyprus, the new state is an independent and sovereign republic, with a presidential system of government. Although not explicitly stated, the Constitution adheres to a relatively rigorous separation of powers with respect to the authority of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

§ 11:2 Constitutional law

The Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus is the product of the London and Zurich Agreements. In order to grant independence to Cyprus from British colonial rule, on 11 February 1959, representatives from Greece and Turkey met in Zurich and reached an agreement for the granting of independence and self-determination to the people of Cyprus. On 19 February 1959, the Prime Ministers of the Hellenic Republic, the Turkish Republic, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the leaders of the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities initialed the documents comprising the Zurich agreement.

On the basis of the above Agreements, a constitutional commission was appointed to draft the Constitution of Cyprus, composed of representatives of the two communities and of the Greek and Turkish governments. The outcome was the declaration of an independent Cyprus Republic on 16 August 1960 and the creation of a constitution which embodied the various provisions of the Zurich Agreement, certain aspects of the 1950 Greek Constitution and most of the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights with respect to fundamental rights and civil liberties.

The Constitution of Cyprus cannot be said to be a true reflection of the sovereign will of the people of Cyprus. It is rather a "granted" constitution and the product of negotiation and compromise between the previous colonial ruler and the governments of the two "motherlands" of the two resident ethnic communities.

The Constitution of Cyprus is also a "rigid" constitution because a number of basic articles are considered to be of fundamental importance and cannot be deleted or amended under any circumstances by the unicameral legislature. Amendments to the remaining articles require a two-thirds majority from representatives of both communities in the House of Representatives.

The Constitution does not fully respect the democratic principle of majority rule since it effectively gives the minority Turkish-Cypriot community and the majority Greek-Cypriot community equal rights, despite the disparity in their numbers. The Turkish-Cypriot community is overrepresented in all the organs of central government with respect to its demographic weight. In a number of matters, such as defense and the budget, it has an effective veto which may be exercised by the Vice-President of the Republic, who must be a member of the Turkish-Cypriot community.

Following the invasion of Cyprus by the armed forces of Turkey in 1974 and the occupation of the northern part of the island by the Turks, which continues to the present day, the Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus is only enforced "de facto" in the southern free part of the Republic. The partition of the island led to the forced separation of the two communities into two ethnically cleansed regions, a "Turkish" north and a "Greek" south. The partition of the island has meant that many provisions of the Constitution which require the participation of members of the Turkish Cypriot community cannot be enforced in the free territory of the Republic.

The ongoing accession negotiations between Turkey and the European Union may assist in the discovery of a lasting and peaceful settlement of the political problem on the island and in the eventual re-unification of Cyprus. A settlement will almost certainly necessitate the adoption of a new Constitution to replace the 1960 constitution.

§ 11:3 Statutory law

Under the Constitution, the legislative power of the Republic is exercised by the House of Representatives. All laws must be passed in the House of Representatives by a simple majority vote of all the members present. Laws passed by the legislature come into force on the date they are published in the Official Gazette of the Republic, unless other provision is made in the law itself.

Not all statutes are of equal force to each other. Statutes that are passed by the legislature in order to ratify an international treaty, convention or agreement concluded under a decision of the Council of Ministers (the organ vested by the Constitution with the exercise of executive power) have superior force over any other domestic law. However, the supreme law is the Constitution and all statutes and laws passed by the House of Representatives must be consistent with its provisions.

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Originally published by Thomson Reuters.

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