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The Criminal Justice System

The courts exercising criminal jurisdiction in the Republic of Cyprus were district courts, assize courts, and the Supreme Court in its appellate functions. District courts served as the courts of first instance for all but the most serious crimes; their jurisdiction was over any crime with a penalty of up to three years' imprisonment, a fine of up to Cú500 (Cyprus pound--for value, see Glossary), or both. Assize courts had unlimited jurisdiction in the first instance but in practice heard only a small percentage of the cases coming before the district courts. The Supreme Court heard all criminal appeals but had no original jurisdiction in criminal matters. There were no special courts to deal with security or political offenses, and civilians were not subject to trial by military courts.

The court system in the Turkish-administered area was similar to that of the Republic of Cyprus. In district courts, a judge sitting alone had jurisdiction to try summarily all offenses punishable by imprisonment not exceeding three years. Assize courts, composed of three judges, had jurisdiction to try offenses punishable with more than three years imprisonment. The Supreme Court dealt with criminal appeals from assize courts and district courts, but did not exercise initial jurisdiction in criminal matters except when, sitting as the Supreme Council of Judicature, it might try the president for treason or the prime minister and other ministers for charges preferred by the Legislative Assembly.

District courts of the Republic of Cyprus sat permanently, consisted of one judge each, and conducted exclusively summary trials held immediately after preliminary inquiries. Assize courts met three times a year in each judicial district and were each composed of three judges chosen from the district court. Assize courts heard preliminary inquiries, or trials of information, after which the accused could be discharged or bound over for trial. Trial procedure was based on English common law and was identical in both courts: the charge was read, the accused entered a plea, the prosecution presented witnesses and evidence, the defense presented its case, closing statements were made, and the verdict and sentence were handed down. Cases were generally tried before judges, although a request for a jury trial was usually granted.

Within ten days of the pronouncement of sentence, the accused could appeal any case involving a sentence of imprisonment or a fine over Cú20. The accused could appeal either a conviction or a sentence; the prosecutor could also appeal a sentence or, from a district court, a judgment. All appeals went to the Supreme Court and had to be heard by at least three of its seven members. The Supreme Court had wide latitude in its appeal findings: it could increase, decrease, or modify a sentence; it could acquit or convict in overruling a lower court; or it could remand a case to the lower court for retrial.

Defendants had the right to be present at their trials, to be represented by counsel, to be provided with a public defender if unable to afford a lawyer, to confront witnesses, and to present evidence in their own defense. According to the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices published annually by the United States Department of State, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention were provided by law and respected in practice by both the Government of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot authorities. Preventive detention was not legally authorized, and was not reported in practice. Under the Greek Cypriot system, no one could be held for more than one day for investigation of a crime without referral of the case to the courts for extension. Most periods of investigative detention did not exceed eight or ten days before formal charges were filed. Attorneys had free access to detainees.

Punishments allowed by law included death by hanging, imprisonment up to life, whipping, and fines. Criminal punishments as actually implemented were light. The death penalty, which could be handed down for premeditated murder, high treason, piracy, and certain capital offenses under military law, was in practice commuted by the president of the republic. The punishment of whipping was not imposed in practice. The few long prison sentences handed down by Greek Cypriot courts were usually shortened by pardons or parole actions. The vast majority of punishments for criminal convictions were in the form of fines.

Prisoners in the Republic of Cyprus were housed in the Nicosia Central Prison. The prison population was very low. In 1990, of 260 inmates, 65 were aliens. Thus, although foreigners constituted only 1 percent of the population, they accounted for 25 percent of the prisoners. Most of these were Middle Easterners convicted of drug trafficking.

Both the Cyprus constitution and the basic document governing the Turkish Cypriot community specifically prohibited torture. In both communities freedom from cruel, unhuman, or degrading treatment was provided by law and respected in practice. Adequate health care was provided in detention facilities, and diets were considered normal. Family members were permitted monthly visits after conviction, and attorneys could visit at any time.

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The Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot authorities release few details on the size, equipment, organization, and deployment of troops at their disposal. Their public statements tend to minimize the strength of their own forces and to exaggerate the strength of the other side. Estimates in the foregoing section rely primarily on data found in The Military Balance, 1989-1990 published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, supplemented by reports in Jane's Defence Weekly. The article on Cyprus by Gwynne Dyer in World Armies (1983 edition) provides additional particulars on the National Guard and other military contingents, although its information on Turkish and Turkish Cypriot forces is limited. An interview with Defense Minister Aloneftis, reported by Mary Ann Weaver in the New Yorker, reveals numerous details on the defense preparations of the Greek Cypriot forces as of 1990. A study by Keith Kyle on Cyprus, published by the Minority Rights Group in London, is a concise but balanced review of politico-military events through 1984. The international strategic dimensions of the Cyprus dispute are analyzed by Robert McDonald in The Problem of Cyprus in the Adelphi Papers series. The role of the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) during its quarter century of peace-keeping is treated by Alan James in "The UN Force in Cyprus" in the journal International Affairs. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of January 1991

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