On 2nd June 2022 the Cypriot parliament passed law 69(I)/2022 for the establishment of a Commercial Court and an Admiralty Court (“the Law”).
Many readers will be aware that Cyprus is an island in the eastern Mediterranean and the eastern most outpost of the European Union. Its geographical location being at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and the Middle East has shaped its history. Previously seen as a strategic location for would be conquerors of which there were many, the location of Cyprus, its Common Law background, large number of Double Tax Treaties, business friendly climate and highly effective and efficient services sector have been key drivers in making Cyprus a favoured business destination for many Europeans especially Dutch, for Canadians, nationals of the states of the former Soviet Union and latterly Chinese and Israeli investors. This has established Cyprus as a major international business hub which has a reach that belies its size.
The growth of Cyprus as a business centre has placed great pressure on its civil courts, resulting in delays that are amongst the worst in the European Union. The reasoning behind the establishment of the Commercial Court is the creation of a specialist Court where the judges will specialise in commercial disputes in the same manner and with the same efficiency as specialist courts such as commercial courts, construction and technology courts operate in other jurisdictions.
Characteristics of the Commercial Court
One unique aspect of the Commercial Court which demonstrates the desire of the legislature to ease the administration of justice in international commercial disputes is the permissibility of using the English language. This mirrors recent initiatives in some EU jurisdictions, most notably Holland which have established similar international commercial courts to cater for the foreign business community that conducts business in or through these jurisdictions.
Jurisdiction of the Commercial Court
The Commercial Court will hear commercial disputes which are defined in the law as disputes relating to:
(a) Business documents or contracts.
(b) Purchase, sale, import and export of goods.
(c) The carriage of goods by land, air or pipeline.
(d) The exploitation of oil, natural gas or other natural resources.
(e) Insurance and reinsurance.
(f) The functioning of markets or the exchange of shares, stock or other monetary credit or investment vehicles or goods (which is clarified to mean every kind of moveable property save for choses in action and money and includes bonds and shares.
(g) The provision of services excluding medical, quasi medical, dentistry services or services that are provided within an employment contract.
(h) Manufacture of vehicles.
(i) Commercial representations.
(j) The application of the provisions of the law relating to Compensation for Breaches of competition law.
(k) Disputes between shareholders in entities that are regulated by any regulatory authority within the Republic of Cyprus.
(l) Matters relating to copyright and related rights within the ambit of the law for the Protection of Copyright and Related Rights law and the Certificates of Inventions law.
(m) Arbitration Issues.
Minimum Monetary Value of Disputes
The Law sets the minimum value of disputes that will be heard by the Commercial Court at €2 million excluding interest claimed. In the event of a dispute as to the value of the dispute, and by extension the jurisdiction of the court the objecting party may apply to the court of a determination.
In the event that the court determines that the value of the commercial dispute is below €2 million the Law allows the Commercial Court to refer the dispute to the District Court.
(a) The cause of action arises in whole or in part in the district where the Court has jurisdiction.
(b) The defendant or any one of the defendants at the time of the filing of the action resides, carries on business, or in the case of a legal person has its registered office in the district where the court has jurisdiction.
(c) The parties jointly agree between themselves by written agreement to refer the commercial dispute to the Commercial Court, in such a case if any one of the parties resides outside Cyprus, or carries on business outside Cyprus, or in the case of a legal person has its registered office outside Cyprus. In such a case the Commercial Court sitting in Nicosia shall have jurisdiction
(d) The jurisdiction of the Commercial Court derives from community law, international treaty or any rule of private international law. In such a case the Commercial Court sitting in Nicosia shall have jurisdiction.
Transfer of Cases from the District Court to the Commercial Court
Any party may apply to either the Commercial Court or to the District Court for a case that is before the District Court to be transferred to the Commercial Court provided that the hearing of the case has not commenced.
Transfer of Cases from the Commercial Court to the District Court
A judge of the Commercial Court may transfer a case to the District Court where:
(a) the Commercial Court lacks jurisdiction, or
(b) where upon the application of any party that it is appropriate for the case to be tried before the District Court.
Sittings of the Commercial Court
The Commercial Court shall sit in the district capitals of each administrative in buildings that will be specifically prescribed and published in the Official Gazette. Given that there are four administrative districts one can assume that two judges will sit in Nicosia one in Limassol, one in the Larnaca-Famagusta District and one in Pafos.
The Commercial Court will have its own separate registry and registrars.
Judges of the Commercial Court
The Commercial Court will be manned by five judges to be appointed by the Supreme Legal Council.
As the Law prescribes that the number of judges shall be five. This number will effectively and for all intents and purposes be limited to five as a change of law is required for the increase in the number of judges.
The judges of the Commercial Court shall have the standing and shall have the same powers as those of a President of the District Court. (Hitherto the highest tier of judges of first instance in the civil justice system of Cyprus).
The powers derive from the Courts of Justice Law and the Civil Procedure Law.
Procedure Before the Commercial Court
The Courts of Justice Law applies to the following extent:
- Section 29 relating to the law to be applied (the Constitution, Statute law, Common Law and Equity, Vakouf (Turkish Cypriot trusts and immoveable property) law;
- Part 4 – relating to the powers of the Court;
- Part 5 – relating to the witnesses and evidence;
- Part 7 – relating to the transfer of cases from a court to another court having jurisdiction by order signed by the President of the Supreme Court*.
Procedure before the Commercial Court shall be regulated by procedural regulations specially formulated for the requirements of the Commercial Court. For this purpose, the Supreme Court* has power within the Law to issue a procedural order for the better implementation of the Law and for the regulation of any matter capable of regulation by way of procedural rules.
Use of English Language
A judge of the Commercial Court may where the interests of justice demand allow for the hearing of the case and the filing of pleadings to be in the English language following an application of one of the parties. In such a case the court prescribes that the English language as the language in which the procedure shall be carried out and shall issue its judgment in English.
Appeals from the Commercial Court
Each judgment or order of the Commercial Court is subject to appeal before the Supreme Court.
A decision of the Commercial Court for the pre-trial referral of a question to the ECJ or a decision of the Commercial Court dismissing an application for the pre-trial referral of a question to the ECJ shall not be subject to appeal.
As with other courts in Cyprus the Law establishing the Commercial Court does not contain any provisions for leave to appeal or any restrictions as to the grounds of appeal.
In the case of an appeal, the Law states that the Supreme Court* shall not be bound by any findings of fact made by the Commercial Court and shall where the circumstances so demand shall have power to review and re-examine evidence and reach its own conclusions and shall further be entitled examine further evidence and to rehear witnesses and to issue any order of judgment that is justified under the circumstances including an order the rehearing of the case by the Commercial Court or other court having jurisdiction to hear the case.
The establishment of the Commercial Court is a reaction to commercial pressure for a quicker and more specialist trial court for larger commercial disputes many of which run into hundreds of millions and indeed some into billions of Euros.
Specialist commercial judges will in time gain the experience and specialised knowledge so as to be able to deal with complex commercial cases effectively and speedily.
The ability of the court to conduct proceedings in English will expand and enhance cooperation with foreign lawyers and make justice more accessible to a large number of potential litigants who conduct their commercial businesses within and through Cyprus.
The wide jurisdiction given to the Supreme Court* may appear daunting at first. It is however to be seen as an attempt to give finality to the proceedings at the level of the appeal. This should eliminate the need for retrials in all but the most unavoidable circumstances.
On the whole, the legal and commercial community of Cyprus has greeted the creation of the commercial court with an open mind and a cautious optimism.
Ioannides Demetriou LLC
*It should be noted that the current Supreme Court will be re-organised into an Appeals Court and a Constitutional Court. The appeal from the Commercial Court will be to the civil division of the Appeals Court.