Justice reform starts with the police
The need for justice reforms has been something we’ve been hearing about for many years, with every administration trying to address it, but with little to show for it at the end of office.
There is no doubt that our judicial system is transparent, oftentimes fair and occasionally swift. In fact, the Cyprus legal system is probably one of the best in the world. The problem lies in its proper implementation, and where possible, consideration of special circumstances.
With fewer people ending up behind bars, offenders in civil cases could be punished using other forms of reprimand, most often through a combination of a financial penalty and even community work provided to state services or NGOs.
This will help decongest the prison facility and also help better manage the re-integration into society of criminals and capital offenders.
For this to happen, the judicial system needs two allies, which is where the problem lies.
Civil servants are very often rigid when it comes to decisions that may be crucial to a case, made worse in recent years by a sense of unwillingness to take any responsibility for their actions.
A simple reply of a phone call and trying to resolve a citizen’s concerns or queries would go a long way in reducing red tape, which is inflated by the (in)actions of the government employees themselves.
The other pillar is the “long arm of the law” itself, the police force.
It’s no use introducing a “neighbourhood bobby” if the friendly police officer has little to go on, in the way of the right tools or instruments to enforce the law where needed.
The inability to tap into the conversations or even the financials of well-known drug lords and underworld leaders, who often hide behind the protection of privacy laws or a barrier of politicians and lawyers, does little to instil a sense of confidence and justice in the public eye.
The police don’t need much reform either.
What needs to change is the system that allows for better recruitment of competent people, vetting and prosecution of corrupt officers (and state officials) and utilising special skills that are otherwise available only in the private sector, while also improving the image of the police as an institution that could be trusted, for example, by simply placing knowledgeable people to man the phone lines, which is the first line of response.
Another improvement would be for the police to be seen to adopt gender equality in practice and not just in words.
By simply placing the vast majority of female officers behind desks, with few ending up “on the street”, does little to convince half the population that female officers can do the job that their male officers are called to do, perhaps even better, with a touch of humanity.
Finally, the police lacks in highly qualified officers, as recruits from the academy (if they make it past the anachronistic ‘height and weight’ standard) join the force at entry level and then rise up the academic ladder with the ultimate goal of better promotions. In fact, the opposite should be true.
Where there are highly-skilled professionals or scientists in the private sector, regardless of gender, religion or minority, these should be encouraged to join the police by way of head-hunting or even bypassing the requirement to complete the full academy course, where the candidate’s knowledge and ability to solve a case could be far greater and more efficient than the level of the trainers themselves.
Foreign investors and visitors need to be reassured that crime is being tackled effectively and that the safety of our society is in capable hands.