Lobby for Cyprus is a non-party-political human rights organisation campaigning for a reunited Cyprus.
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Media Watch 2005

19 December 2005
Source: Times
Author: Michael Theodoulou
Comment: The following letter appeared in the Times of London on 19 December 2005.
Cherie case provokes diplomatic row

"The Prime Minister's wife is defending a couple accused of illegally building a villa in Cyprus
CHERIE BOOTH, QC, is at the centre of a diplomatic row after defending a British couple accused of illegally building a house on forcibly abandoned Greek Cypriot land in northern Cyprus.

President Papadopoulos of Cyprus intends to complain to the British Government about her role. "It’s a provocative action, as it is difficult to separate her professional capacity from being the wife of the British Prime Minister," he said.

Ms Booth, a member of Matrix chambers, which specialises in human rights and international cases, has been the subject of abuse in the Greek Cypriot media. One newspaper said that she was "counsel to the embezzlement" of Greek Cypriot property; another described her as "an advocate to crime".

The British High Commission in Nicosia said: "Cherie Booth, QC, is acting in a professional capacity. Any inquiries relating to her legal practice should be directed to her chambers, Matrix."

No one at Matrix was available for comment yesterday.

The row comes at a time of poor relations between Britain and its former colony, where many Greek Cypriots are convinced that London is biased towards Turkey. The British Government has championed Turkey’s case for entry to the European Union.

Ms Booth will be helping to represent Linda and David Orams, from Hove, who built a villa with a swimming pool in the village of Lapithos in northern Cyprus, investing about £160,000. In April a court in the south of the island, where the Greek Cypriot Government represents Cyprus internationally, ordered the couple to demolish the house, return the plot of land and pay the original, displaced title-holder damages of nearly £10,000.

Because of the island’s divided status, the court is powerless to enforce its ruling in the selfdeclared Turkish Cypriot state, which is recognised only by Turkey.

But lawyers for Meletis Apostolides, the original Greek Cypriot landowner, have registered the judgment with the British High Court under European law, which could result in a compensation claim against the Orams’ British assets.

The couple have until December 22 to appeal against the case’s registration in Britain. It could be the first time that the High Court has tested a 2001 regulation from the European Council that judgments in one EU member country can be enforced in another.

A parallel appeal by the Orams, who say that they acquired the property in good faith from a displaced Turkish Cypriot, is also being heard in the Greek Cypriot courts.

Constantis Candounas, Mr Apostolides’s British-trained lawyer, said that he had no qualms about his team coming up against Ms Booth and her legal team in London. "She has a very good reputation as a competent lawyer and I look forward to the whole case in London," he said. "The British High Court will not be deciding on the merits of the case but rather on legal points and whether this judgment can be enforced in Britain."

Many Greek Cypriots hope that the attention drawn to the case by Ms Booth’s involvement will highlight the risk of buying disputed property in northern Cyprus.

The island has been divided since Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus in 1974 after a short-lived Greek-inspired coup in Nicosia, which displaced 167,000 Greek Cypriots and 40,000 Turkish Cypriots.

Hundreds of foreign homeowners, mostly Britons, this year formed a UK-registered lobby group to protect their interests.

All United Nations settlement plans in the past have acknowledged the property rights of dispossessed Cypriots, and promised compensation for those who may not be able to return to their homes. Concerns among Greek Cypriots over the property issue was one of the reasons that they voted down a comprehensive settlement plan last year drawn up by Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General.

The Foreign Office warns those buying homes in the internationally unrecognised Turkish Cypriot state that they could face legal action in Cyprus and elsewhere in the EU, including Britain."