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Michalis Vorkas: Cyprus’ lawyers must become more assertive

Lawyer Michalis Vorkas, who is running for president of the Cyprus Bar Association, said that lawyers in Cyprus need to become more assertive, as he laid bare his priorities if elected in an interview with InBusinessNews.

A top priority, he said, will be to seek the cooperation of the state in bringing the legal profession up to date, with the necessary legal amendments; as the state has a duty to do.

“Without the contribution of the legal world, there can be no justice nor services but also no growth,” he said, adding that lawyers are an example of success in attracting clients to invest in the Cyprus economy.

As regards the recent sanctions by the UK and US, Vorkas conceded that this did indeed paint a negative picture of lawyers, adding that there were some rushed actions and statements made by the Bar Association that did not represent the Board of Directors.

He said Cyprus was right to fully comply with the sanctions, as when the entire planet is condemning a war and implementing measures and sanctions aimed at averting it, we do not have the luxury to be the exception.

Michalis Vorkas’ interview follows:

You are running for presidency of the Cyprus Bar Association. What would you summarise as the biggest and most important challenges the sector is currently facing and what are your priorities if elected?

Cyprus’ economic crisis and generally the critical international economic and political situation, have affected many professional sectors in Cyprus over the past few years, including the legal profession.

This situation includes the war in Ukraine, which resulted in international sanctions against Russia, whose citizens had for many years been investing in the Cyprus economy. All the above resulted in a reduction of legal matter, both in terms of administrative and related services, as well as court cases.

This is why the Cyprus Bar Association must prioritise cooperating with the state institutions and authorities to come up with joint actions to alleviate the problem that has arisen, by attracting new types of investments to the country, forming a new economic and tax model, and by extent, upgrading and expanding the role of lawyers and the services they offer.

When it comes to justice reform, what are your plans to ensure it is fully implemented the soonest possible?

Justice in Cyprus is being upgraded. There have been quite a few reformative changes to date, such as the creation of the new Court of Appeal, the operation of the Constitutional Supreme and the Supreme Court, the introduction of new Civil Procedure Regulations and the introduction of i-justice.

However, there are still several important reform measures remaining, such as the issue of Court Administration, the establishment of a Commercial Court and Maritime Court and certainly the implementation of reform measures in the Courts of First Instance with the main objective of avoiding delays.

I consider it necessary to continue the involvement of the Cyprus Bar Association in all the above actions and changes, within the framework of a productive dialogue and collective work with all interested and involved bodies, for the fast and smooth evolution of the Cypriot Judiciary to a modern and developed society.

Lately, the sector has once again been in the spotlight following the international sanctions that were imposed by the USA and UK. Would you say the negative picture that was painted about your profession has been restored?

It is a fact that the USA and UK invoked violations by a certain law firm of the sanctions that they imposed on specific Russian oligarchs.

Whether there was indeed a violation of these sanctions and to what extent, I am not aware. What I do know for sure is that this cannot unfairly target the entire legal profession.

I believe that this negative picture was also created by rushed actions and statements that were made, which did not represent the Cyprus Bar Association’s Board of directors.

My opinion is that through specific actions and statements by the Cyprus Bar Association’s new Board of Directors, the abovementioned unfavourable image will cease to exist.

Judging by the result – a few months on – would you say the Republic of Cyprus was right to comply and fully implement the American and British sanctions or not, given that it was not legally obliged to?

The Republic of Cyprus is not alone in this world. We are an internationally recognised and developed country with democratic values and institutions, and we belong to the free world as a member of the European Union and the United Nations.

When the entire planet is condemning a war and implementing measures and sanctions aimed at averting it, we do not have the luxury to be the exception.

As lawyers and a key component of the broader professional services sector, lawyers have a key role to play in attracting foreign investments and establishing Cyprus as a global financial hub. How do you plan to contribute towards this goal?

As you very correctly said, lawyers are a key component of the broader professional services sector, which is why the state must cooperate with us to help our work.

The state must provide the necessary resources through new legislative arrangements to modernise and revise, for example the tax legislation, to avoid the delays observed in the Department of Immigration in promoting different requests, to end unnecessary bureaucracy that holds up staff of various services and the rapid digitisation of all state services.

We are an example of success when it comes to attracting clients that invest in the Cyprus economy. The state institutions and services have a duty to cooperate with us and alleviate our work, which helps the country grow.

For yet another year, the 2023 EU Justice Scoreboard has highlighted the problem of delays in adjudicating cases in Cyprus. Given that the growth of the state’s economy is directly connected to the rate of awarding justice, what actions have you promoted or plan to promote, if elected, to accelerate it?

There are a number of reasons that do not have to do with the present that led to this unacceptable situation. I believe that the problem will be resolved if we have the necessary cooperation, so that on top of what is being done right now to alleviate the problem, we can also have the following:

(a) Pursuant to legislative and related regulations, a portion of the delayed lawsuits should begin to be referred to arbitration, the effectiveness of which should be ensured by the necessary amendments to existing legislation, making it more effective. The Cyprus Bar Association can be the Arbitration Centre for this purpose.

(b) Retired non-lawyers and judges to be appointed by special contract to take over the adjudication of some of the backlogged cases.

Do you believe that the Cyprus Bar Association exercises its supervisory role sufficiently when it comes to money laundering, as well as its role as regulator of Cyprus’ legal profession?

Even though there is always room for improvement, I believe that the level of supervision by the Cyprus Bar Association is very high today.

We can further upgrade the sector through collaborations with various stakeholders, both in Cyprus and abroad, as well as with more training and guidance of our members.

As regards the Cyprus Bar Association’s role as regulator of Cyprus’ legal profession, I believe that this must continue and be upgraded even further, to promote and ensure the rights and interests of the sector, but also justice in general.

Concluding, what message would you like to send to the legal world in view of the upcoming election?

My message to Cypriot lawyers is that they must become more assertive. We are, as you have correctly mentioned in a previous question, a key component of the broader professional services sector.

I would even add the main pillar of justice in Cyprus. Without the contribution of the legal world, there can be no justice nor services but also no growth.

(Source: InBusinessNews)

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