American Hellenic Institute Statement on
APOSTOLIDES v. ORAMS
Judgment of the Court of Justice C-420/07
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that even though (1) the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control over that area of its territory that is occupied by the armed forces of the Republic of Turkey and (2) the application of European Union law is suspended in the occupied area, the judgment of a court of the Republic of Cyprus which involves land located in the occupied area must be recognized and enforced by the courts of other Member States of the European Union.
Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974. Turkey ejected persons who held title to real property in the occupied area under the laws of the Republic of Cyprus prior to the invasion. Turkey has wrongfully and illegally excluded those persons from their real property and denied them the use and enjoyment of their property.
In 2004, the Republic of Cyprus became a Member State of the European Union. Because Turkey still occupied its territory, the law of the EU was suspended in the occupied area because the Republic of Cyprus did not exercise effective control in the occupied area.
Mr. Apostolides holds title to property in the occupied area and was excluded from his property by Turkey. In 2003 he learned that two British citizens, Mr. and Mrs. Orams, had “purchased” his property. He sued them in the courts of the Republic of Cyprus for return of possession of the property and for damages. The courts returned and affirmed a judgment in favor of Mr. Apostolides.
Because the Orams owned property located in Great Britain, Mr. Apostolides sought to enforce the judgment he had obtained in Cyprus in the courts of Great Britain. He asked the British courts to allow him to take property owned by the Orams in Great Britain to satisfy his judgment. The basis for enforcing the judgment was that, because each of Great Britain and the Republic of Cyprus is a Member State of the European Union, the courts of Great Britain were obligated to recognize and enforce the judgment of a court of the Republic of Cyprus. He relied on an EU law which required the courts of a Member State to recognize and enforce the judgments of the courts of another Member State. This law is similar to the law in the United States which requires the courts of a State to recognize and enforce the judgments of the courts of any other State. The Orams argued that because the law of the EU is suspended in occupied Cyprus, the law requiring the courts of EU Member States to recognize and enforce the judgments of the courts of another EU Member State does not apply.
The highest court of Great Britain referred the issue to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which is the highest court of the European Union. The ECJ is empowered to hear issues of EU law referred to the ECJ by the highest court of an EU Member State. The highest court of Great Britain asked the ECJ to decide whether the law which requires the courts of EU Member States to recognize and enforce the judgments of the courts of another EU Member States applies even though EU law is suspended in occupied Cyprus. The ECJ ruled that the British courts must recognize and enforce the judgment of the courts of the Republic of Cyprus. As a practical matter, this means that the British must order that the property of the Orams located in Great Britain be sold to satisfy the judgment Mr. Apostolides had obtained from the Cypriot court. It is theoretically possible but unlikely that the British courts will refuse to adopt the ECJ ruling.
Significance of the ECJ Ruling to Persons Who Hold Title to Property In Occupied Cyprus Under the Laws of the Republic of Cyprus
The ECJ ruling is significant because it enables lawful owners of property located in occupied Cyprus to obtain damages from a person who possesses their property if that person has any type of property located in any of the 27 Member States of the EU. However, the lawful owner must complete the following procedure:
- File a complaint in the appropriate court of the Republic of Cyprus,
- Serve a summons/complaint on the person who possesses the property (referred to as the defendant) in a manner required under the laws of the Republic of Cyprus,
- Litigate the case through the court to judgment,
- If the defendant answers the summons/complaint and appears in court the parties must litigate the case, or
- If the defendant does not answer or appear in court, ask the court to grant a judgment by default.
- Determine in which of the 27 EU Member States the defendant has property, identify the property and assert a cause of action in the courts of that Member State to recognize and enforce the judgment.
- If the court of a Member State has jurisdiction over the defendant and (A) the defendant has property in a country which is a non-EU Member State and (B) the Member State has a treaty under which judgments in the Member State are recognized and enforced in the courts of the non Member State, then the lawful owner may also enforce the Cypriot judgment in the non Member State.
- Note that the crucial fact is not the citizenship of the defendant but whether the defendant has property located in an EU Member State which is available under the laws of that Member State to satisfy a judgment. Consequently, the property of Turkish Cypriots or Turkish citizens located in another EU Member State may be available to satisfy a judgment if 1 through 4 are accomplished.
In its inaugural issue of the AHIF Policy Journal, AHIF will publish an in depth article onAPOSTOLIDES v. ORAMS which will include an analysis of the effect of the case on the current negotiations.
The American Hellenic Institute is a nonprofit public policy organization that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and also within the American Hellenic community.