Tuesday, 28 April 2009

European court finds in favour of Greek Cypriot refugee

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that Meletios Apostolides, a Greek Cypriot refugee from Turkish-occupied Lapithos, near Kyrenia, can reclaim land he was uprooted from by the Turkish invasion in 1974 and which was subsequently 'bought' by an Anglo-Jewish couple, Linda and David Orams.

Apostolides initially took the Orams' to court in Nicosia in 2005, which decided that the Britons should knock down or hand over to him the villa with swimming pool they had built on his land and pay him compensation and rent for the deprivation and use of his property.

When the Orams', with the protection and full backing of the Turkish-occupation regime in northern Cyprus, refused to recognise the Nicosia court's ruling, Apostolides sought to have it enforced in the UK, where the Orams' permanently reside, on the principal that judgments in Cypriot courts have to be recognised in all other courts in the European Union.

The High Court in London in 2006 found that while it accepted that Apostolides owned the land in Lapithos; Cypriot – and by extension EU – courts did not have effective jurisdiction over Turkish-occupied Cyprus and, therefore, the Nicosia court ruling against the Orams' could not be enforced. (The judge also awarded costs of £863,000 against Apostolides, a substantial amount of which was to be paid to 'human rights' lawyer Cherie Blair – former prime minister Tony Blair's wife – who had been hired by the Turk/Orams' side).

Apostolides appealed the High Court decision and the UK Court of Appeal referred the matter to the European Court of Justice – the EU's highest court – which today found the High Court decision erroneous, stating that: 'The fact that the land concerned is situated in an area over which the [Cyprus] government does not exercise effective control... does not preclude the recognition and enforcement of those judgments in another member state [and]… the fact that Mr Apostolides might encounter difficulties in having the judgments enforced cannot deprive them of their enforceability.'

Read ECJ judgment summary here.

Without being a legal expert or understanding just yet what the full implications of this undoubtedly positive ruling are: two points have struck me so far following the initial reaction by Cypriot lawyers to today's verdict:

Firstly, the matter is not finished with the ECJ ruling. The case is now back with the British courts, which have to decide how they are going to enforce the ECJ verdict. Given the High Court experience and the probable reluctance of a British court to find itself executing decisions made by a foreign (Cypriot) court that adversely affect the interests of British citizens, the possibility remains that a British court will seek to water down or side step the Nicosia court and ECJ rulings.

Secondly, while the ECJ ruling has potentially devastating implications for EU citizens who have 'bought' usurped Greek Cypriot land and will surely put off others considering investing in property in occupied Cyprus; it is likely that the Turkish occupation regime will seek to ameliorate the consequences for its 'property development' sector by looking for buyers outside the EU – most probably from Israel and Russia.

No comments: