The Courts of the Sovereign Base Areas comprise the Resident Judge’s Court and the Senior Judges’ Court. The head of the judiciary is the Presiding Senior Judge.
The Courts were set up following the Treaty of Establishment in 1960, by which the Republic of Cyprus gained independence from the United Kingdom. The Courts of the Sovereign Base Areas serve all the civilian and military populations living in, working in, or travelling through the Sovereign Bases of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, which are those portions of the Island of Cyprus that were not included in the Republic of Cyprus at independence. Although funded by the British Ministry of Defence through the Sovereign Base Areas Administration, the Courts have always been and remain fully independent.
All criminal and civil cases at first instance are heard in the Resident Judge’s Court. The Senior Judges’ Court hears appeals from the Resident Judge’s Court, as well as cases involving human rights issues and judicial reviews of the decisions of public bodies in the Sovereign Base Areas. The final court of appeal from the Senior Judges’ Court in the Sovereign Base Areas is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, sitting in London.
The Resident Judge is based at Episkopi. He is a British judge seconded to the post from the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom. Senior Judges are also all full-time British judges but are non-resident, travelling from the United Kingdom as and when required. They also are able to sit remotely, using live-link, when it is in the interests of justice so to do. In addition, a number of Associate and Acting Judges are appointed to cover for the Resident Judge when he or she is away.
The Resident Judge is also HM Coroner for the Sovereign Base Areas dealing with all sudden, suspicious or unexplained deaths occurring within the Sovereign Base Areas.
Senior Judges usually sit as a tribunal of three to hear cases. Occasionally a Senior Judge may sit in the Resident Judge’s Court to hear the more serious or complex criminal or civil cases.
The Courts deal with a wide range of offences committed within the Sovereign Base Areas, ranging from speeding and insurance offences through to serious sexual offences and murder. They do not deal with offences against military discipline, which are heard by separate military courts known as ‘Courts Martial’. Subject to some exceptions, where both the defendant and complainant are not UK personnel, the defendant may be able to elect to have his or her trial heard in the courts of the Republic of Cyprus.
The Courts apply Sovereign Base Areas law, which is frequently closely aligned with, and in some cases identical to, the laws operating within the Republic of Cyprus. The language of the courts is English and interpreters are provided to assist defendants and witnesses when required.
There are two courthouses, one in Episkopi serving the Western Sovereign Base Area of Akrotiri and another in Dhekelia serving the Eastern Sovereign Base Area. There is no limitation to the jurisdiction of either of the two courts based on locality: cases from the Eastern Sovereign Base Area can be heard in Episkopi and vice versa.
The Courts are administered by a small team led by the Senior Registrar (based in Dhekelia), who is responsible for the running of the courts and the supervision of the court personnel. At each court there is a Business Support Officer responsible for the day to day running of the Court business. The Senior Registrar is also the Registrar of the Senior Judges’ Court, the Industrial Disputes Tribunal, the Compensation Assessment Tribunal and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.