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Short Arm of the Law
I was owed a sizeable amount of money by an acquaintance/business associate and given the lean times we are experiencing I decided that it was time I confronted him and asked for my money back.
I knew, or I thought I knew, that he was a man of his word and that collecting my dues would be a formality. When I told him the reason for my visit he just looked at me in a perplexed way as if I was demanding something unreasonable.
‘My friend, are you living in cuckoo land’ he said. ‘There is no money, no cash. The banks have squeezed us to the point of no return and it’s a struggle to feed my family and you are asking for your money? However since you have been so patient (stupid) with me I can give you some building material, cement, tiles lots of stuff. ’
I could not believe what I was hearing. Here I was trying to collect my long overdue money and I was being offered building materials by the ton! Not being known for my diplomatic skills I just snapped and told him that the next place I would see him was in court.
And here is where the ‘real’ fun begins. I visited my lawyer, gave him all the documents and proof of the money owed and asked him how long he believed it would take for the conclusion of this ‘open and shut case’.
‘We’ll probably win the case but it will take three to four years, and who knows he may file for bankruptcy and by the time the case concludes you will probably get nothing’ he replied.
Music to my ears. I was shell-shocked. I could not believe what I was hearing so I decided to do a bit of ‘research' of my own. My findings unfortunately were even more alarming. The timeframes stipulated by my lawyer were in fact correct but I also discovered that there were several ways for ‘culprits’ to evade the unfortunately short arms of the law.
A case was brought to my attention about a lady issuing a total of 39 cheques for a total of in excess of €200.000. All 39 cheques bounced leaving the poor recipient (X) with no other option but to take civil and criminal action. The civil decision was in his favour but the lady had filed for bankruptcy so all he got (after 3 years) was a big fat nothing. X continued with the criminal case in the hope that he would get at least some kind of moral satisfaction by seeing the lady behind bars, even if it was for a few months.
Last month the court decided once again in his favour but the lady got away with a suspended sentence, because of a law that states that no mother can be imprisoned (for such crimes) if at the time of sentencing she has a child younger than three years old. The lady’s has a baby less than a year old. The fact that the ‘crime’ happened almost four years ago had no bearing whatsoever.
I can see some sense in this law but what will X do now? How is he protected? He still owes at least half of the amount (interest running), he cannot file for bankruptcy as he has a reputable business, and above all he cannot even get pregnant.
I really cannot understand how in cases such as these, where there in no case for the defence, decisions cannot be reached sooner. The problem is that in most court cases, similar to these or not, you have to waste a lot of your time at the court’s kafenio sipping your skettos only to be told ‘the defence got ‘another deferral’ or ‘the judge has too much on his plate today’ and ‘see you in three months’.
I do not think that it is a problem of not having enough lawyers as Cyprus seems to be swamped with lawyers. Do we need more judges? Is it a problem of the whole legal system? With so many lawyers holding parliamentary seats it is truly amazing how they have not introduced laws to make their own profession more efficient and assist law abiding citizens to get a fair deal!