13 March 2014 11:59

A law proposal intended to tighten the rules governing how legal aid is offered to the public is being examined by the House Watchdog Committee.
Speaking to the media, committee Chairman George Georgiou said there is growing concern after reports that a ring of lawyers and police investigators use family relationships and other connections to ensure that only a select few law firms in Cyprus are chosen to represent the majority of defendants seeking legal aid.
"Some people clearly take advantage of the situation by referring the people who seek legal aid to certain law offices only. The clients in these cases are often foreign nationals who cannot read Greek and often don't know how to choose their own state lawyer."
According to Georgiou, there are around 900 lawyers on the legal aid list, yet two thirds of the budget for state legal assistance goes to around five law firms on the island each year.
"The committee is also examining reports that many of these lawyers who receive thousands from the state each year for their legal aid work do not submit tax invoices."
Georgiou noted that wider inefficiencies in the court system must also be examined as Cyprus spends an average of €1 on legal aid for every resident compared to the rest of Europe where the average is €7 for every resident.
Akel MP Irini Charalambidou said that in Limassol in 2012 the yearly legal aid budget was €1,137,000 which was paid to just six lawyers who provided state legal assistance.
"Unfortunately there appears to be organised cliques of lawyers and police investigators that distribute legal aid cases amongst themselves and people they know."
She added that there have also been reports of lawyers who purposely cause delays in legal aid cases in order to increase their legal costs.
Diko MP George Prokopiou said he was aware of one law office that has been paid €460,000 over six years (€77,000 per year) in legal aid fees.
"We have been informed by the Auditor General that lawyers who fail to pay their taxes for legal aid work will have their state benefits cut off." EDEK MP Fidias Sarikas said that unfortunately the state for many years has been lenient over the matter.
"We call on the Pancyprian Bar Association and the Auditor General to report these groups to the authorities whenever an offence has been committed."


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