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Constitution, Government & Legislation | Courts & Judgments | Legal Profession | Law Schools | Study Law in Greece | Correspondents' Reports | Bibliography
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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

The 1975 constitution, which describes Greece as a "presidential parliamentary republic," includes extensive specific guarantees of civil liberties and vests the powers of the head of state in a president elected by parliament and advised by the Council of the Republic. The Greek governmental structure is similar to that found in many Western democracies and has been described as a compromise between the French and German models. The prime minister and cabinet play the central role in the political process, while the president performs some governmental functions in addition to ceremonial duties.

The president is elected by parliament to a 5-year term and can be reelected once. The president has the power to declare war and to conclude agreements of peace, alliance, and participation in international organizations; upon the request of the government a three-fifths parliamentary majority is required to ratify such actions, agreements, or treaties. The president also can exercise certain emergency powers, which must be countersigned by the appropriate cabinet minister. Changes to the constitution in 1986 limited the president's political powers. As a result, the president may not dissolve parliament, dismiss the government, suspend certain articles of the constitution, or declare a state of siege. To call a referendum, he must obtain approval from parliament.

Parliamentary deputies are elected by secret ballot for a maximum of 4 years, but elections can be called earlier. Greece uses a complex reinforced proportional representation electoral system which discourages splinter parties and makes a parliamentary majority possible even if the leading party falls short of a majority of the popular vote. A party must receive 3% of the total national vote to qualify for parliamentary seats.

Source: U.S. Department of State
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Greek Law is a typical European civil law (with a few differences from the other European legal systems), substantially influenced by the German legal tradition. The origins of Modern Greek Law go back to Ancient Greek Law which was the precursor and the intellectual source of Roman Law of the classical period (ius greco-romanum). After the conquest of Greece by Rome, Roman law was officially introduced to Greece but many Greek laws continued to be in effect. During the Byzantine period, Greek customs and the remnants of ancient law influenced the codification of Justinian. The legislation and codification of subsequent emperors, who were of Greek origin, was increasingly novel. From the beginning of the 15th century to 1821, Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire. After the 1821 War of Independence, the modern Greek state was created and the "Laws of our Byzantine Emperors" were reintroduced. These laws remained in effect (with many amendments by modern legislation) until the introduction of the various codes (Commercial Code-1828, Civil Code-1940, Criminal Code-1833a-1951b, Code of Civil Procedure-1835a-1968b, Code of Criminal Procedure-1834a-1951b, etc.).

Dr. Aristides N. Hatzis
JURIST Greece Correspondent

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Courts & Judgments

There are three types of Greek courts: administrative, criminal and civil. They operate at three levels of jurisdiction. The criminal and civil courts are constituted by the same judges. There are three kinds of judicial officers: judges, public prosecutors and clerks.

For civil proceedings, there are three types of district courts: Justices of the Peace, One-Member and Three-Member District Courts. Three-Member district courts handle the most important civil cases (usually with higher stakes) in the first instance and they also function as appellate courts for the Justices of the Peace.

There are 13 Courts of Appeals in the 13 largest Greek cities. A Court of Appeals tries cases de novo both on legal and on factual issues and is comprised of three judges.

The Supreme Court for civil (and criminal) cases is Areios Pagos (sitting in Athens). It hears cases in panels of five judges, and in some very important cases it sits en banc. In those cases all 56 judges participate, but a decision requires 28 affirmative votes. Areios Pagos is a Court of Cassation, i.e. it deals only with questions of law and not of fact.

There is no specialization among judges, even though there are special administrative courts (and judges). A judge in a district court tries all kinds of cases of both private and criminal law. In Greece, there are no juries in civil law cases and there is only a limited participation of jurors in some criminal cases which involve murders or other serious felonies (rape, severe bodily injury, etc.). Although according to the Greek Constitution judges should be paid as much as the highest public sector employees, the wages of judges were never high -however, lately there were some very substantial increases in their wages.

Judges acquire life tenure after two years of probationary period and they retire at 65 or 67 years of age. The status of judges (promotions, etc.) is determined by the Supreme Judicial Council that is comprised of Supreme Court Judges. The Cabinet has the right to appoint one of the Supreme Court Judges to the presidency or vice-presidency of the Supreme Court after confirmation by the Parliament.

In civil law cases, the judge plays a neutral role during the process and decides on the facts that are submitted by the parties by applying the relevant legal rules. The initiative regarding procedural steps lies with the parties, not the court, and the proceedings typically take place in writing. The parties must be represented by an attorney (a member of the local bar association) in court (with the exception of the Justices of the Peace).

A judge works alone. There are no law clerks in Greece (only administrative staff) and a Judge has a heavy work load to deal with, especially considering the high volume of cases he/she handles per year. Judges are not formally bound by precedent even on issues where en banc decisions were reached by the Areios Pagos. However, most judges comply with the precedent of Areios Pagos in most cases and those of the most influential Courts of Appeals (esp. those of Athens and Thessaloniki, whose members are the main candidates for Areios Pagos).

Greek judges are selected from among from the ranks of Greek lawyers with at least two years of practice experience who apply for judicial positions. Areios Pagos organizes the exams, which are highly competitive. Starting from 1994, the new judges have to study for one more year in the School of Judicial Education in Thessaloniki, taking advanced courses. After their graduation, judges are appointed to the various district courts around Greece. During the last few years, a number of judges entered post-graduate studies programs and many of them obtained doctoral degrees. The majority of younger judges in the Supreme and the Appellate Courts either hold or are pursuing doctorates and/or master degrees.

Over the last few years, women have not only made a dynamic entry into the ranks of the judiciary, but are currently a majority, esp. among young judges. Even though there are not many women in the higher courts, it is quite likely that after 10-15 years the judicial branch will be female-dominated.

Dr. Aristides N. Hatzis
JURIST Greece Correspondent

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Legal Profession

A Greek law graduate is required to work as an apprentice in a law firm or in an attorney's office for a period of 18 months before taking the bar exam. Such apprentices may not appear in court or have their own clients except under special circumstances. During apprenticeship, they are not paid (or their "salary" is rather symbolic), but in some firms they may receive a kind of dividend for cases where their contribution has been substantial. After the end of this period, they take the bar exam (written and oral exams in Civil Law & Procedure, Criminal Law & Procedure and Commercial Law). After successfully passing the examination, the attorney can practice only in the local District Court. After four years, an attorney is entitled to practice before the local Court of Appeals and later in the Supreme Court (upon application). An attorney qualified to practice in another European Union country may appear before Greek courts and/or establish an office in Greece after fulfilling certain conditions. These include examinations in the Greek language and passing a Bar exam (always in the Greek language). There are also international law firm branches in Athens, Thessaloniki and esp. Piraeus (the historic seaport of Athens).

Today, there are a large (and growing) number of attorneys in Greece, especially in the two largest cities: about 15,000 in Athens and 5,000 in Thessaloniki. The social status of those who practice the profession and the anticipation of monetary rewards are such that they attract a large number of candidates, now female in their majority. However, even though many attorneys eventually do well, the majority of aspiring attorneys are not so successful. Another characteristic is that solo practice is even today the norm, and law firms are few (and of only 5-20 members). This results in the lack of specialization and increased stress among attorneys. Consequently, there is high demand for legal counsel in private companies and in government agencies, for judgeships and for jobs in the public sector in general.

Attorney fees (and all the costs for bringing a dispute to court) are relatively low, especially in comparison with U.S. figures. The losing party pays the court fees and the other party's attorney's fees where the victory is clear. Contingent fees are not allowed in the usual case and, in general, are not very common.

Lawyers who wish to practice as notaries must take a very competitive exam for a very limited number of seats.

Dr. Aristides N. Hatzis
JURIST Greece Correspondent

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Law Schools

There are three law schools in Greece: the Kapodistrian University of Athens Faculty of Law, the Faculty of Law of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki School of Law & Economics, and the Faculty of Law of the Democritus University of Thrace. They are public since the Greek Constitution does not allow the operation of private universities. High school students are chosen for law school education on the basis of a set of competitive exams where only a small percentage succeed.

A sizeable percentage (usually 70 to 80 percent) of Greek law students are female. The duration of studies is four years. A law student has to take a prescribed program covering all the areas of law (consisting of about 25 required courses). He or she has to attend a total of 15-20 "elective" courses.

In recent years, there has been a high demand for graduate studies that offer greater specialization. Such studies require the in-depth study of three courses for two years and the completion of a thesis for the major course. Some students continue their studies at the doctoral level, which take three to six years to complete. Others choose to go to Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands and, recently, the United Kingdom. Very few continue their graduate studies in the United States (although there is a great number of Greek students in the United States pursuing studies in other areas, esp. the physical sciences, economics, etc.). This can be attributed to differences in the legal system and the very expensive tuition fees.

There are basically four ranks of faculty in Greek law schools: Lecturer, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor and Professor. A Lectureship requires a doctorate in law and some published work. To be promoted or appointed to a higher position, one should continue to publish articles, monographs, books, etc., to participate in conferences, etc. Some of the law faculty are also attorneys and this is so because of the very low wages (from $15,000 annually for a lecturer to $30,000 for a full professor, considering that life in Greece is not significantly cheaper than that in the United States). However, full-time faculty are severely limited in practicing law. It is also characteristic that a high percentage of lawyers have graduate degrees and many of them doctorates (there are no official statistics, but it would appear that almost 20-30% of young lawyers either hold or pursue a graduate degree and an approximate 5% hold or pursue a doctorate).

Every department of a law school also has other teaching and research staff, consisting of instructors, doctoral candidates, librarians, research assistants, scientific collaborators, etc.

A large number of faculty members hold doctorates from a foreign university (even though during recent years the number of lecturers with a doctorate from Greek Law Schools is rising), especially from German universities. This is more so for professors of civil and criminal law. There is also a considerable number of scholars who studied in France (teaching constitutional, commercial or international law and courses in jurisprudence). There are almost no professors with a doctorate from Great Britain or the United States. American (and common law in general) legal theory and practice is not well known to Greek legal scholars.

The scholarship of faculty in Greece is published in five forms: law review articles, monographs, textbooks, treatises and commentaries. There is nothing similar to American-style casebook.

There are four types of Greek law reviews:

  1. Those published by the Bar Associations. The most important among them are: Nomikon Vima (Law Tribune) by the Athens Bar Association and Armenopoulos by the Thessaloniki Bar Association. These journals, edited by editorial boards of professors of the respective universities with the help of lawyers who hold doctorate degrees, are the most prestigious in the Greek legal world (enjoying a reputation analogous to that of the Harvard Law Review and the Yale Law Journal). They come out monthly, they are not specialized and they include (as do almost all the Greek law reviews) judicial decisions. In Greece there is no official law reporting system. The cases are published (dispersed) in various law reviews and there are private publishing houses that publish annual compendiums with a brief summary of the major decisions (and citations to the journals where a lawyer can find the full text). This system (despite its complexity) is nevertheless interesting and efficient, since every major decision is almost immediately published in one of the law reviews (and often with comments by legal scholars).

    A typical article is similar to an American "law-review" piece, but more technical and dry. Greek legal scholars (in their majority) are hard-core positivists and only a few try to introduce new ideas, new schools of thought, or interdisciplinary approaches. However, Armenopoulos publishes a special additional issue every year, called the Scientific Review, which includes some mildly interdisciplinary articles. Both journals also publish philosophical articles (in most cases based on German legal theories). The other bar journals could properly be characterized as compendiums of judicial decisions of their local courts and they are not of the same quality.

  2. Those published by private houses under the direction of legal scholars (not professors). The most important are: Archeion Nomologias (Law Archives), Epitheoresis tou Emporikou Dikaiou (Commercial Law Review) and Ephemeris Ellenon Nomikon (Journal of Greek Jurists). They have the same structure with the bar journals (articles, judicial decisions, comments, etc.) but not the same reputation, even though the quality of the articles is similar. These journals are even more conservative in terms of new thinking about the law.

  3. Those published by departments in law schools, groups of professors or legal scholars. These are all specialized journals, the most important ones being To Syntagma (The Constitution), Poinika Chronika (Criminal Chronicles), Yperaspise (Defense), Dike (Trial) and the Revue Hell駭ique de Droit International, published by the Hellenic Institute of International and Foreign Law only in foreign languages (French, English and German).

  4. Ellinike Dikaiosyne (Hellenic Justice) is published under the auspices of the Association of Greek Judges and it includes cases, law reviews and comments.

There are numerous monographs by legal scholars. Most of them are either published doctoral theses or works especially written towards a promotion in a Law School. There are also many monographs published as parts of legal series.

Books that are written especially for students are very few and they usually assume the form of "lectures". This is so because law professors prefer to use full-blown treatises (most of the times written by them). The only educational aids available are "practice books" which present and "solve" difficult and characteristic legal cases.

There is no civil professor who has not tried to write a treatise covering at least one of the five areas/books of the Civil Code (General Principles, Law of Obligations, Property Law, Family Law, Inheritance Law). Many of them are published in consecutive volumes (which usually are never "completed").

There are also a number of article-by-article commentaries of the various Codes or of their particular books. The definitive work on civil law is the one edited by Michael Stathopoulos and Apostolos Georgiades (both Professors of Civil Law at the University of Athens): Civil Code: An Article-by-Article Interpretation (in nine volumes). This may very well be the most cited work of Greek legal bibliography.

Dr. Aristides N. Hatzis
JURIST Greece Correspondent

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Study Law in Greece

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Correspondents' Reports

JURIST's Greece Correspondents are Professor Phaedon Kozyris of the Faculty of Law, University of Thessaloniki, and Dr. Aristides N. Hatzis, Lecturer in Philosophy of Law and Theory of Institutions in the Department of History & Philosophy of Science, University of Athens. Reports in the section have been written or solicited by them. Dr. Hatzis welcomes comments and suggestions directly at ahatzis@phs.uoa.gr.

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Bibliography

Basic bibliography of Greek law in English prepared by P.J.Kozyris, Professor of Law, Emeritus, Universities of Thessaloniki and Ohio State.

  1. General Works

    The only comprehensive work is K.Kerameus & P.J.Kozyris, Introduction to Greek Law (2d. Ed. 1993, Sakkoulas/Kluwer).

    A legal bibliography of English-language books and articles, prepared by P.J.Kozyris, is included in Greece in Modern Times (vol. 1, Chapter 19, pp. 427-439, ed. by S. Constantinidis, Scarecrow Press 2000).

  2. Codes:

    Parliament of the Hellenes, The Constitution of Greece (1995). A new edition is expected soon.
    T.Karatzas & N. Ready, The Greek Code of Private Maritime Law (1982).
    N.Lolis, The Greek Penal Code (1973).
    C.Taliadoros, The Greek Civil Code (2000).
    C.Taliadoros, The Greek Commercial Code (1983).

  3. Dictionaries:

    M. Chiotakis, English-Greek Dictionary of Legal & Commercial Terms (1992).
    I.Hrysovitsiotis & I.Stavrakopoulos, English-Greek & Greek-English Dictionary (5th ed. 2001).
    G.Perris, Greek-English & English-Greek Dictionary of Legal terms (2 vols. 1970).
    G.Tragakis & H.Caratzas & H.Zombola, English-Greek, Greek-English Dictionary of Law Terms and the Constitution of Greece (1986).

  4. Manuals in Particular Fields of Law

    I.Anagnostopoulos & K. Magliveras, Criminal Law in Greece (2000).
    I.Anastassopoulou, Corporations and Parternships in Hellas (1993).
    Chr. Gortsos, The Greek Banking System (1998).
    I.Karakostas & I. Vassilopoulos, Environmental Law in Greece (1999).
    K.Kerameus, The Greek Law of Contract in a European Perspective, in III Studia Juridica 615-665 (1995).
    Th. Koniaris, Labour Law and Industrial Relations in Greece (1990).
    Th. Koniaris, Medical Law in Greece (1999).
    L. Kotsiris, Greek Company Law (1993).
    St. Koussoulis, Issues of International Arbitration and the New Greek Law of International Commercial Arbitration (1999).
    Th. Liakopoulos, Intellectual Property in Greece (1999).
    I.Rokas, Greece:Practical Commercial Law(1990).
    I. Rokas, Hellenic Insurance Law (1993).
    El. Skalidis & G. Kambouroglou, Commercial and Economic Law in Hellas (1998).
    D. Spinellis, Protection of the European Financial Ineterests in Greece (1998).
    S. Spyridakis, Government Policy and Foreign Direct Investment (1999).
    F. Spyropoulos, Constitutional Law in Hellas (1995).
    M. Stathopoulos, Contract Law in Hellas (1995).
    P. Yessiou-Faltsi, Civil Procedure in Hellas (1997).

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Professor Phaedon Kozyris
Faculty of Law, University of Thessaloniki; and
Dr. Aristides N. Hatzis, Department of History & Philosophy of Science, University of Athens
ahatzis@phs.uoa.gr