The imposition of strict restrictive measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus Covid - 19 highlighted the necessity to fill in the legislative vacuum concerning the possibility to hold a meeting of a collective (multi-member) administrative body through the use of electronic media (teleconferencing).
This situation led the Cyprus Parliament' s plenary on March 27, 2020 to vote in favour of amendment of the Law of the General Principles of Administrative Law (Amending) Law of 2020 (Law 28(I)/2020), which now allows the members of collective (multi-member) administrative body to participate in the sessions through teleconference.
The legal composition of a collective (multi-member) administrative body is a necessary condition for the validity of the exercise of its responsibilities and functions. A collective body has a legitimate composition when the conditions established by law have been met so that it can decide validly. These conditions concern natural persons who are members of the collective administrative body, and relate: (a) to their invitation to take part meetings of the collective body; and (b) with their presence when the collective body meets.
The Law on the General Principles of Administrative Law of 1999 (Law 158(I)/1999) connected the legal composition of the collective body with the physical presence of its members during the session and also during the decision-making process. At the same time, it did not allow the participation of members in the session by teleconference ( i.e. the remote meeting through audio, video, computer and any other electronic medium).
Due to the lack of legislative provisions permitting members to participate in meetings through teleconference has resulted to the annulment by Courts of numerous administrative acts/decisions of collective bodies because of the improper composition as members participated of in meetings through teleconference. For example, in the case of Vera Sokolova v. The Republic of Cyprus through the Ministry of Interior etc. , case number 1414/2014, dated 15/6/2016, the Court annulled the defendant' s contested decision due to the improper composition of the Commission in making the decision, noting that the provisions of Law 158 (I) / 1999 are clear and do not provide the opportunity to the members to participate in the meetings by telephone, telephone or other electronic or audiovisual means. In addition, in the recent decision of the Administrative Court in the case of Razis n. University of Cyprus, case number 155/2018, dated 16/4/2019, the Court held that the composition and operation of the Commission were done in a manner contrary to the provisions of Law 158 ( I) / 1999 as it is not provided by law, in accordance with the relevant regulations, nor is any applicable secondary legislation in place in this case, on the basis of which the possibility of a meeting of a collective body of the University from a distance is specifically regulated, without the collective and physical presence of all the members that make it up.
Amending Law of 2020 (L. 28 (I)/2020)
With the Amendment Law of 2020 (L.28 (I)/2020), the notification of the members by e-mail or other electronic means to the e-mail address declared by the members is considered as a formal call and the member who participates in the meeting through a teleconference is considered to be present, having the right to vote when the collective administrative body making a decision. The decisions taken by teleconference shall be deemed to be lawful provided that legal quorum is formed, irrespective of whether all members are present at the meeting by teleconference and without the requirement of a minimum number of members attend in person. In any case, a necessary condition is the observance of a record which includes, among other things, the reasons for the member’s participation in the meeting by teleconference.
The amendment of the Law is directly related to the unprecedented modern and recent developments. It was an imperative step, as in this way the collective bodies can meet without the physical presence of all members. The Law is a positive contribution to time and expenditure efficiency. Not only can it accommodate members who cannot attend due to weather conditions, force majeure, remote areas etc. but also it may lead to a change of culture in meetings of public bodies, leading to virtual meetings becoming the norm in the future.