The British Court of Appeal (Civil Division) with its judgement in the Apostolides v Orams case (Case No: A2/2006/2114) on 19 January 2010 has created an unexpected new legal situation in the ongoing struggle in Cyprus between Greek-Cypriot owners of property who had been forced to flee in 1974 and whose land had been grabbed by the invading Turkish Army, and for the mostly foreign speculators who took control of those lands, building, at times, plush ‘holiday’ dwellings on them.
The judgement of the Appelant Court, which under UK law is final and cannot be appealed to the Supreme Court, is expected to be of intense interest not only to the owners of property whose lands were being exploited illegally by foreigners but also by the political groupings of both Turkish and Greek Cypriots who are in the midst of very sensitive negotiations attempting to find a solution to the division of the country and the continuing occupation of the northern part of the island by Turkey.
According to Michael Jansen’s article in the Irish Times (Jan 21st 2010), a journalist who lives in the Republic of Cyprus,
“Irish nationals face the possibility of losing property in northern Cyprus following a London appeals court ruling in a case brought by a Greek Cypriot against a British couple. The court ordered David and Linda Orams to demolish the villa they built in the village of Lapithos on land owned by Greek Cypriot refugee Meletios Apostolides and pay him rent and damages. The Orams are compelled to execute the ruling within 14 days or be held in contempt… If they do not comply, however, the British court could order the sale of their home in Britain to pay compensation to Mr Apostolides, whose costs are estimated at €1 million.”
Michael Jansen further points out that the London ruling could serve as a precedent in several thousand potential cases that could be raised by Greek Cypriots against EU citizens who acquired Greek Cypriot property after 1974 when 200,000 members of the community fled or were expelled from the north following the Turkish occupation. The UN regards 78 per cent of the land in the north as Greek Cypriot property.
The ruling effectively nullifies the 1975 Turkish Cypriot absentee property law, which deprived Greek Cypriots of their properties and enabled foreigners to acquire their land and homes in the occupied area.
The judgment provides that the earlier Cyprus Court judgments, against whom the Orams appealed in the British Courts, and the European Court of Justice judgements in Luxembourg,(1) be registered and enforced in the UK. In particular, the Cyprus Court had ordered that the Orams should:
- Cease trespassing on the land belonging to Mr. Apostolides;
- Deliver up possession of the land to Mr. Apostolides;
- Pay ‘mesne profits’ (effectively, rent) to Mr. Apostolides in respect of the period of their occupation;
- Knock down the villa and fencing they had built on the land.
The Orams will also be ordered to pay the legal fees incurred by Mr. Apostolides, regarding the London and Luxembourg proceedings. It is significant that neither the Orams nor their barrister Cherie Blair were present in the Appelant Court when the decision was announced.
D Christophias, President of the Republic of Cyprus, responded to the judgement by saying that the British Appelant Court’s decision had very significant legal as well as political implications. He focussed on the human rights aspect of the decision and said it was a very eloquent answer to the Turkish attempt to deny peoples right to property.
The issue of property rights is a key aspect of the second round of Greek-Turkish negotiations due to start on January 25th. The Greek Cypriot side has been arguing that the owners of the properties, who are in control of the deeds, must have the final say as to the future of the property. The Turkish side, on the other hand, has been putting the emphasis on the rights of those who took control and exploited the property over the recent past. This is an issue that would have serious implications for about 5,000 UK and a few tens of Irish citizens, as mentioned by Michael Jansen, who have taken control of these properties building holiday homes and villas on them.
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara made the comment that the British Appelant Court judgement had arrived “…at a very inopportune time…” and it could have “….very negative implication for the Greek-Turkish negotiations!”
This is a key issue to follow as it is likely to have implications not only on the bi-zonal negotiations but also on the overall process of Turkey’s accession to the European Union. All comments welcome.
(1) In a landmark decision the ECJ decided that judgements by courts in one EU member state, in this case the republic of Cyprus, are applicable to all EU member states.
Photo of Photo Credit: Stephen Lock.
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