A lawyer for a British woman, whose conviction in Cyprus for lying to police about being raped was overturned by the highest court in the land, says the family is waiting to see how authorities will respond, after a Supreme Court decision pointed fingers at law enforcement and the district judge for failing to exercise due diligence.
The Supreme Court in the Republic of Cyprus on Monday overturned the conviction of a British woman, who was given a four-month suspended sentence for making up claims that she was gang-raped by young Israeli males while on a working holiday in Ayia Napa back in summer 2019.
The three-member bench on Monday overturned her “public mischief” conviction in a 2 to 1 ruling and acknowledged that the Briton had not been given a fair trial, while also pointing fingers at law enforcement and saying procedures to safeguard the woman’s rights were not followed at the police station.
“The court did not seem to be alert to particular circumstances, when the 19-year-old female was called down to the police station in the afternoon for supplementary statements as a complainant and six hours later, after midnight, she was interrogated as a suspect and at 1:15am she appeared to make a voluntary statement without the presence of a lawyer,” the Supreme Court found.
It was also stated that a the woman had even refused to sign a document about her rights and threw the paper back at the officer, with the bench finding “she seemed to be negative, even aggressive, and in just forty minutes she appeared to state ‘I made a big mistake, I will tell you the truth what happened’ followed by a statement/admission.”
'Therefore the court invoked a fundamental right for a defendant and used it against her' the Supreme Court found
In July 2019 police arrested a dozen Israeli teenagers on rape charges after the woman, who was 19 at the time, said she had been gang-raped in a hotel room in Ayia Napa. The complaint was filed after her friends took her to a local doctor who then contacted police, with investigators later saying she retracted her statement. They then accused her of lying while the girl maintained she was forced to sign a confession at the station after a long interrogation without the presence of her lawyer.
But the biggest criticism was reserved for Famagusta District Judge Michalis Papathanasiou, who was accused by the defense of being discourteous and unfair to the defendant and never giving her attorneys the chance to put forward evidence supporting their client’s claims by saying “this is not a rape case.”
“Of course the issue at hand was not rape. But attempts by the defense were aimed at raising doubt as to whether the [rape] complaint by the appellant was fake or had to do with an imaginary crime, which were critical components in the offense in question,” the Supreme Court said.
“This was the line of defense, as it was aptly explained by the defense attorney in response to a comment when the judge during cross examination of forensic examiner Sofocleous said he was not trying a rape case,” the bench added.
Papathanasiou had found in his original ruling that the appellant did not tell the truth and tried to deceive the court with “evasive” statements in her testimony.
But the Supreme Court went on to say that the judge’s “no rape” remarks were intense and frequent throughout the trial, prompting the defense to argue they were not treated fairly and that the conviction was unsafe.
Judge Papathanasiou was also scolded in the ruling for diminishing the value of a doctor’s statement.
“The physician’s statement is clear about a lady who was in a state of panic and in such condition where she even refused to let him come close to examine her,” the ruling said, while also pointing out that it was her friends who took her to the medic who then called police.
“Therefore it was not the appellant herself who went to the police but the involvement of law enforcement came about after the doctor took the initiative,” the bench found.
Judge had wrong perspective
The Supreme Court scolded the judge for taking a false approach to witness statements, saying “the most important issue is that that the lower court judge approached the issue of depositions with a wrong perspective.”
“He had spoken on the need of an abundance of caution towards hearsay evidence in a criminal trial ‘in the face of the duty by the court to secure a fair trial’” the bench said.
But the judge ended up paying lip service to the principle of the right to a fair trial, according to the Supreme Court ruling, which cited Article 30 of the Cypriot Constitution on the right to a public trial and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the right to a fair trial.
“Therefore the court invoked a fundamental right for a defendant and used it against her,” the bench found.
One of the woman’s lawyers, Cypriot attorney Nicoletta Charalambidou, told state radio on Tuesday morning that the family would first wait and see how local authorities would respond before taking any next steps.
The defense team has already called for an investigation into the original rape allegations, with lawyer Michael Polak calling for the case to be transferred to a different police department “so that all the evidence in this case can be considered fairly and dispassionately.”
Polak, a Justice Abroad consultant who had overseen the appeal against the conviction, has accused authorities of failing to carry out a proper investigation into the rape complaint and insisted all along that they did not get a fair trial in the courtroom.