Building relations in Cyprus

Pavlos Panayi QC outlines the highlights of the first joint conference of the Bar Council of England and Wales and the Cyprus Bar Association and emphasises the striking similarities between the two jurisdictions

The e-mail from the Bar Council appeared in my inbox on 14 April of this year, inviting speakers to come forward to speak at the first joint conference to be held by the Bar Council of England and Wales and the Cyprus Bar Association (CBA). 

It spoke of business development opportunities. It was not, however, just the promise of new work which sparked my interest, but also the prospect of a return to Cyprus, where I had, in my distant childhood, spent happy summers by the beaches and in the mountains and villages of a place which is sometimes called ‘Aphrodite’s island’.

I had also, for some years, been interested in the opportunities offered to lawyers by Cyprus. Cyprus is unique among the Commonwealth for the great and enduring influence of the English common law, while also being part of the EU. Many statutes passed since independence are based on UK legislation and those incorporating EU law have their British counterparts. An example is the Cypriot anti-money laundering legislation, which Cyprus has modelled on our statutory regime

In 2014, my friend Kerim Fuad QC (Church Court Chambers) and I founded the Cypriot Lawyers’ Society (CLS), which is a network of lawyers with links to and an interest in Cyprus. We established the CLS for Cypriots from both Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. Our committee and membership is open to lawyers of all nationalities and reflects the broader make-up of Cyprus, which has always been a melting-pot of cultures. As well as Greek and Turkish Cypriots, we have among our membership many English lawyers who have a professional interest in Cyprus. Since 2014, the CLS has held lectures, parties and drinks evenings, published articles and we have tried, in a variety of ways to challenge the popular misconception that Greek and Turkish Cypriots are implacable antagonists.

So, I sent off my application and received an invitation to join a panel discussion on white-collar fraud and money laundering. Other topics to be discussed there included civil and criminal cross-border issues, arbitration, international enforcement of judgments and fraud.

The conference

On the day itself, I guessed there were a total of about 200 of the island’s leading lawyers to hear the opening addresses of Theodoros Ioannides, President of the CBA and the Bar Council Chair, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC.

The first morning session was a fascinating comparative analysis of the Brussels recast, addressing issues of jurisdiction and parallel proceedings. The moderator, Dr Kypros Chrysostomides, whose law firm, Dr K. Chrysostomides & Co LLC, is one of the largest in Nicosia, had been elected to the Cypriot parliament in 2006 and is a former Cypriot Minister of Justice. Contributions from our own Konrad Rodgers (Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP) and Shobana Iyer (Swan Chambers), were expertly prepared and presented.

I took the stage with Amanda Pinto QC (33 Chancery Lane), Collingwood Thompson QC (7BR) and three prominent and widely regarded Cypriot lawyers. The panel discussion was titled ‘AML and white collar crime – the rise of a compliance era and the importance of litigators to safeguard due process’. We offered comparative insights into:

  • the likely impact of the 4th EU Money Laundering Directive in the UK and in Cyprus;
  • UK proposals for reform of the suspicious activity report (SAR) regime;
  • a discussion on Bowman v Fels [2005] EWCA Civ 226 and developments in legal professional privilege;
  • an overview of EU sanctions directed at the illegal annexation of Crimea and their impact on Cyprus and UK lawyers;
  • the limits of search and seizure powers exercised by modern regulators and the conflicts of interest which can arise when lawyers work in the regulated sector.

There was some fascinating input from the floor, including contributions from Eva Rossidou-Papakyriacou, the head of MOKAS (the Cypriot anti-money laundering regulator).

The afternoon sessions were equally engaging and began with a session moderated by the Bar Chair on developments in urgent interim relief (TSB Private Bank International v Chabra [1992] 1 WLR 231). Rupert D’Cruz (Littleton Chambers) and Alexandros Gavrielides (Scordis, Papapetrou & Co LLC) spoke eloquently and with authority.

The penultimate session on the registration and enforcement of judgments in the UK and Cyprus included impressive contributions from Frederico Singarajah (Hardwicke) and David O’Mahony (7BR). The final session was a discussion of UK and EU law issues in a Cypriot context and was moderated with considerable skill by Hugh Mercer QC (Essex Court Chambers) who drew in a lively discussion from the floor. Hugh made the essential point that Cypriot firms were uniquely placed to reinforce the legal service they can offer in the increasingly high-value litigation which Cyprus hosts, by hand-picking expert lawyers from the English Bar. This is particularly so when seeking the most cost-effective way of achieving a level playing-field when appearing against global law firms.

The Cypriot legal and business market

The day ended with some networking opportunities. Several of the UK delegates were approached by Cypriot lawyers to discuss instructing us in ongoing cases. I was invited to meet representatives from a major Cypriot financial institution the following week and instructions followed two weeks after my return to the UK.

I am often struck by how widely English is spoken in Cyprus (over 80% of Cypriots speak English) and how highly the Cypriot legal establishment prizes the education and legal experience available in the UK. It is unusual to find a successful Cypriot lawyer who has not completed their undergraduate or post-graduate degree at a British university.

Most laws are officially translated into English and British case law is closely followed, particularly in the many situations where a legal dispute raises an issue that lacks a local precedent. Principles of criminal law, contract, company law, property and trusts law are directly transferable across our jurisdictions.

English language documentation is routinely admitted in Cypriot courts and only requires translation if requested by one of the parties. English continues to be the lingua franca of business in Cyprus and is routinely used in board minutes and internal company documentation, particularly for multinationals.

Cyprus, like London, has a large Russian ex-patriot community (approx. 40,000 citizens), made up of high net-worth individuals who have invested in property, located their businesses and registered their companies and trusts locally. Trade in Cyprus is financed and conducted by major corporations who have interests in Africa and the Middle-East and, of course, the EU, which Cyprus joined in 2004. The lowest corporation tax rate in Europe (12.5%) is one incentive.

Cyprus joined the Eurozone in 2008 and held the presidency of the Council of the EU in 2012, but remained outside the Schengen area. This is one reason why, despite being located just 100 miles from Syria and 60 miles from Turkey, it has avoided the migration crisis that has gripped so much of Europe.

Cyprus emerged much earlier than expected from the economic collapse across southern Europe in 2008 and is enjoying strong growth. The business services sector has thrived in company formation, tax planning, trusts, foreign exchange trading and fund administration, encouraged by a network of double tax treaties with close to 60 countries and a sound and incorruptible legal system.

The key instrument of Cyprus holding companies has attracted hundreds of thousands of companies to set up and channel their investments into key markets through the island. The country’s geographic location helps it position itself as a convenient entry point into the EU. Its proximity to Africa and the Middle East also carries advantages. The Cypriot government is actively wooing new markets and it was one of the first European countries to build trade relations with Iran when sanctions were lifted. Other key jurisdictions include Israel and South Africa.

I left promising myself that I would return and soon. I may have my next opportunity next summer, since I gather that talks are already underway between the Bar Council and the Cyprus Bar Association to hold the next UK Cyprus Bar conference in 2017.

Further information

Details on joining the Cypriot Lawyers’ Society can be found at www.cypriotlawsoc.com

Contributor Pavlos Panayi QC, Carmelite Chambers, London

Author details: 
Pavlos Panayi QC

Pavlos practices from Carmelite Chambers in London, specialising in financial and business crime. He is co-chair of the Cypriot Lawyers’ Society and a Goodwill Ambassador for the UK Cyprus Enterprise Council.