The Guardian

Cyprus rape case: what legal challenges does the UK woman face?

The Guardian

The legal challenge facing the 19-year-old British woman who wants to clear her name after being convicted of lying about being gang-raped in Cyprus is formidable.

How will she overturn the court’s ruling?

Her lawyer, Lewis Power QC, has pledged to pursue her case all the way up through the Cypriot courts and, if necessary, to the European court of human rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. Cyprus has adopted the European convention on human rights and claims that her human rights have been breached will be arguable in any appeal.

The republic’s highest judicial body is the supreme court in the capital, Nicosia. Her case will have to have exhaust all potential domestic remedies before it can be considered by ECHR judges in Strasbourg. That process could take many years.

Will she have to return to Cyprus repeatedly to establish her innocence?

It is possible the Cypriot courts could allow her lawyers to take her appeal on paper without her being required to be present at future hearings. Power said she had already suffered “prolonged mental ordeal under the judicial process in Cyprus”. He added: “This young girl was stripped both of her dignity and her basic human rights.”

Is her predicament unique?

Power said the case had far-reaching repercussions for women travelling abroad. Nicholas Mercer, formerly the command legal adviser for British bases in Cyprus, revealed he regularly came across similar cases in Cyprus in the Sovereign Base Areas.

He said that in 2007 he had come across a remarkably similar case involving the wife of a British serviceman who alleged she had been indecently assaulted by a Cypriot national. “She was held for seven hours in a police station without legal representation,” he said.

“As with the current case, the tables were turned on her and she retracted her statement, becoming the suspect herself, and was then accused of perverting the course of justice. Alarmingly, she was seemingly denied access to a lawyer and was held incommunicado. I only became involved after a tipoff from the military police, who were concerned for her welfare.”

Statements recorded by the police were frequently mistranslated, Mercer added. “The Cypriot police very often did not have sufficient command of the English language to record a statement accurately. In one drink-driving case”, he recalled, a reference to “driving over a verge” appeared in the statement as “driving over a virgin”. Whilse this might be entertaining, he said, the inability to record a statement accurately “could seriously impact the fairness of a subsequent trial”.

Is Cypriot criminal justice reliable?

The UK’s Sovereign Base Areas, which rely on Cyprus law, has not adopted Britain’s 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) for investigations. Consequently suspects are sometimes denied access to lawyers, with proper disclosure of evidence and interviews under caution not being tape-recorded, Mercer said. “A suspect in a police station is under enormous pressure and cannot be expected to check every word of statement. Furthermore, they would find it very difficult indeed to ask the police to change the wording when it is not accurate.”

Have complaints been made before about Cypriot courts?

Mercer said problems of the criminal justice system were raised frequently by military lawyers. There were also concerns over the compliance of criminal justice system with the European convention on human rights. However, the Ministry of Defence was reluctant to subject UK troops to a different standard of criminal justice than Cypriots living in the Sovereign Base Areas. “Most remarkable of all,” he said, “was the refusal to introduce the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 after all the abuses that had arisen in the UK before the introduction of proper procedures in the police station … It was, legally, like the land that time forgot.”

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent The Guardian

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