A Description of the Structure of the Hellenic Republic, the Greek Legal System, and Legal Research
By Maria Panezi
Maria Panezi is an LL.M candidate and a W. C. Langley Scholar of International Legal Studies at New York University, School of Law. She has published a note on an important case on sovereign immunity in the Revue Hellénique de Droit International, a peer-review Greek law journal, which will also be published in the International Legal Reports. She is a member of the executive committee of the International Legal and Academic Society, an organization created by LLM students and practitioners from all over the world who are interested in pursuing an academic career. Maria Panezi received her first law degree from Athens University, Greece. There, she worked as a research assistant for professors teaching Public and International Law. She has received an award from the Greek Chamber of Commerce for her paper on Greek exports and an honorary scholarship from Athens University. She has attended various international conferences and summer schools.
Published April 2006
Table of Contents
Sources of Law - Public and Private Law
Greece is situated in the Balkan Peninsula and it shares borders (from West to East) with, Albania, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey. The official name of the country is “Hellenic Republic” (Elliniki Dimokratia). Its capital is Athens, situated in Attica. The largest cities in regards of population are Athens, Thessaloníki, Piraeus, and Patra. Its area is 131,957 sq. km./ 50, 949 sq. mi. The population is 10,964,020 as of 2001. The next census will take place in 2011. The language spoken is Greek.
Greece was a founding member of the United Nations. It has accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, with reservations. On January 1st 1981 it became the tenth member of the European Communities. It is also member of numerous international organizations among which, the Council of Europe. On January 1st 2002 Greece joined the Single European Currency and adopted Euro as its currency; prior to that the national currency was the drachma.
Greece is a civil law country, and thus jurisprudence is not considered as a source of law. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, although article 28 of the Greek Constitution provides that international conventions ratified by Greece as well as EU legislation shall prevail over any other provision of law.
Organization of the state
The system of governance in the Hellenic Republic is based on the principle of separation of powers (article 26 of the Hellenic Constitution, hereinafter: the Constitution). There are three branches in the state - the legislative, the executive and the judiciary.
The legislative branch consists of the Parliament (Vouli/Koinovoulio) and the President of the Republic (Proedros tis Dimokratias). There is only one parliament, thus Greece has a unicameral system of legislature.
The President of the Republic is elected for five years by the Parliament (not through direct popular vote). To be eligible for the presidency one must be at least forty years old and a descendant of a Greek father or mother. She or he can only be reelected once.
The Parliament consists of 300 Members, elected for a term of four years through national elections. Every person who is above 18 years old is entitled to vote and every person above 25 years old is eligible to run for Member of Parliament. The Constitution (article 54) allows the Parliament to determine the electoral system through a law, which according to the recent electoral law comes into effect not in the immediately-following general election but the ones after that. The electoral system is traditionally based on some form of “reinforced” proportional representation. Out of the 300 Members, 288 are elected based on constituency votes and 12 are elected from party lists in proportion to the percentage a party receives at the national elections. The codified legislation regulating the national elections is Presidential Decree 96/2007. A sui generis law, the “Regulations of Parliament” regulates the internal proceedings of the Parliament.
The main legislative function is assigned to the Parliament, which is bound to exercise its powers within the limits of the Constitution, and those set by International Conventions ratified by Greece.
The Parliament votes for a Bill (Nomosxedio) to become a Law (Nomos) in three voting sessions: firstly in principle, then per article and then as a whole. Once the bill is passed, it is sent to the President of the Democracy to promulgate and publish it in the National Gazette (Efimerida tis Kyberniseos).
Delegation of legislative power is generally allowed as provided by Law (Nomos).
The most significant form of delegation is the Presidential Decree (Proedriko Diatagma). It is based on statutory delegation It is also published in the National Gazette. A draft has to be checked by the Council of State (Symboulio tis Epikrateias).
The Parliament may also delegate power to the executive. Thus, Ministers of the Government issue Ministerial Decisions (Ypourgikes Apofaseis) under the requirement of consequent ratification by the Parliament.
In urgent cases when legislation is needed, the President of the Republic, following a Governmental proposal, issues acts of legislation (Praxeis Nomothetikou Periexomenou), again under the requirement of consequent ratification by the Parliament. This delegation of legislative powers to the President of the Republic can take two forms. First, according to article 44 paragraph 1 of the Constitution, the delegation can occur for the immediate regulation of legislative needs. This form of delegation happens frequently. These acts have to be ratified by the Parliament within 40 days after the beginning of the first parliamentary session. It is doubtful whether these acts are in fact subject to scrutiny from the legislative body ex post, or their ratification is only typical.
The second form of delegation to the President of the Republic is that of article 48. It is rare, and it takes place in the case of emergency (threats against national security or threats against the democratic governance of the Republic). It is an exceptional case of legislation, when the country is in a situation of serious distress.
The Parliament, depending on the nature of legislation, often incorporates various relevant laws into codes. Codes are usually a form of legislation has a more concrete and structured form and they are very common in civil law systems. A lawyer wanting to address a legal inquiry would begin by looking into the general framework of codes, depending on what field of law they would be looking into, and then move to more specific legislation.
Laws can be found online in the National Gazette but the service works through subscription. Also, hard copies of the legislation can be obtained at the National Gazette office (34 Kapodistriou Street, 10432 Athens, Greece). A private online service, the Nomos database that again works through subscription can be used for legislation research. There is no public database or website where one can obtain legislation. It is not published in the Parliament website either.
- National Gazette
- Hellenic Parliament
- Nomos Database
- Greek Legal Information Database (Athens Bar Association)
The executive branch consists of the Government (Kybernisi) and the President of the Republic.
The Government consists of the Prime Minister (Prothypourgos) and the Ministers (Ypourgoi). Each Minister is the head of a particular Ministry. The President of the Republic is required, according to the Constitution, to appoint as a Prime Minister the leader of the party that has obtained a parliamentary majority.
The Government is politically accountable, whereas the President of the Republic is not.
Websites of Ministries and other parts of the Government
- Prime Minister
- Ministry for the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works
- Ministry of Culture
- Ministry of Development
- Ministry of Economy
- Ministry of Employment and Social Protection
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity
- Ministry of Internal Affairs
- Ministry of Justice
- Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace
- Ministry of Mercantile Marine, Aegean, and Island Policy
- Ministry of National Defense
- Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs
- Ministry of Public Order
- Ministry of Rural Development and Food
- Ministry of Tourism, Greek National Tourism Organization
- Ministry of Transport and Communications
- General Accounting Office
- General Research and Technology Network
- General Secretariat for Consumers
- General Secretariat for Information Systems
- General Secretariat for Research and Technology
- General Secretariat for Sports
- General Secretariat of Commerce
- General Secretariat of Communication and Information
Courts in Greece are divided into Administrative, Civil and Criminal.
Disputes of an administrative nature are under the jurisdiction of the Council of State (Symboulio tis Epikrateias) and the Regular Administrative Courts (courts of First Instance and Courts of Appeal).
Disputes of civil nature and voluntary jurisdiction are under the jurisdiction Civil Courts.
The punishment of crimes and the adoption of all measures required by the criminal laws are under the jurisdiction of Criminal Courts.
The Court of Cassation (Areios Pagos) is the Supreme Court for Civil and Criminal Law. It examines only legal and not factual issues and it is the highest degree of judicial resort.
The checking of public spending, the control of contracts of a significant economic value where one of the contractors is the State, the checking of the finances of public persons, the submission of a report to the Parliament for the statement of accounts and balance sheets of the State is under the jurisdiction of the Court of Auditors (Elegktiko Synedrio).
The adjudication of objections at the validity of national parliamentary elections, referendums and the resolution of conflicting jurisprudence between courts and administrative commissions or between the Council of State and Regular Administrative Courts, or Civil and Criminal Courts, or between the Court of Auditors and other Courts is under the jurisdiction of the Special Highest Court (Anotato Eidiko Dikastirio).
All courts can examine the constitutionality of laws through judicial review, but only for the particular case before them, according to articles 93 paragraph 4 and 87 paragraph 2 of the Constitution. The constitutionality of laws is not examined prior to their application, except inside the Parliament, as provided by article 100 of the Regulations of Parliament. However, even prior to the constitutional provisions, the Greek courts had established their authority for judicial review since the late 19th century. The decision 169/1893 of the Court of Cassation is the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Marbury vs. Madison.
Another organ of quasi-judicial nature is the Legal Council of State (Nomiko Symboulio tou Kratous). According to article 100A of the Constitution, the Legal Council of the State is assigned with the judicial support and representation of the State and to the recognition of claims against it or to the settlement of disputes with the State.
Decisions of courts can be found in databases online, but subscription is required to obtain access. Also, copies of decisions can be obtained at the Secretariat of the Courts. Facts about the high Courts can also be found in the WebPage of the Ministry of Justice.
- Nomos Database
- Database of Legal Information
- Greek Legal Information Database (Athens Bar Association)
History of law
Ancient Greek Law
[The main source used for this part is Σ.Τρωϊανός- Ι.Βελισσαροπούλου-Καράκωστα, Ιστορία Δικαίου, εκδόσεις Αντ.Ν.Σάκκουλα, Αθήνα-Κομοτηνή (2002)]
The Greek legal culture has its roots in ancient Greece, dating almost 3000 years ago. Ancient Greek law was described in writings as early as the Odyssey and the Iliad of Homer. However, not much is known about justice during that era. The system was rather one of dispute settlement through mediation or arbitration between the parties and justice was based on retaliation and reciprocity. Religion played a central role then, but also later on, during the Archaic and Classic period. Throughout time, the system became progressively more concrete and courts were known in Athens of the Classic Antiquity. Democratic principles provided for participation of all male citizens in all functions of government. However, the vast majority of the population, slaves and women, were not allowed to participate in any form of government, since they were not considered to be citizens.
Because of the constant changes in the space Greece was expanding in during the last twenty centuries, the history of Greek Law can be located in multiple sources, from Egyptian papyrus to decrees of the Byzantine emperors in Constantinople or even customary legal rules that the Greek Diaspora followed during the 17th and 18th century.
When we talk of “Ancient Greek Law”, we mean a collection of laws of Greek city-states, which had many things in common. Cities with the same political organization had more things in common than cities with completely different regimes. Thus, the expression “ancient Greek law” stands for a “family” of legal cultures that every member is connected to a different legal order. In the oldest texts (Homer and other poets), the word indicating the source of regulation of human behaviour is Themis, which has also religious connotations. Later on it is replaced by the word Diki (or Dike) which is a derivative of the verb Deiknymi, that is, to show, to demonstrate the way. Dikaios, or righteous was the person who did was they were supposed to. The word Nomos (the Law) is established later, during the Sophists era. It derives from the verb Nemoo, that is, to distribute. This is linked to the belief that the distribution of goods and rights among the people and thus the definition of righteousness is the work of humans. Thus the Law is juxtaposed to Nature (Nomos versus Fysis).
During the archaic years, before the 6th and the 5th century, the law is mixed with religious beliefs, social morals or even hygiene rules. The first great legislators (Zaleukos and Harondas, 7th century BC) lived before the notion of a law was considered to be created by humans and not gods, something that only happened in the end of the 6th or the beginning of the 5th century. Even in Pindaros (520-460 BC) the expression “the law is everyone’s king” (Nomos panton vasileus) is connected to the secular order, part of which is the legal order.
According to the opinio communis, the law of the first years was unwritten, it was transmitted from generation to generation through an oral tradition and it was customary. The ones who knew the law and the means of transmitting the law were representatives of aristocratic families who also sat as judges to various disputes. According to this view we have to wait until the 7th century, until people with prestige, the legislators (nomothetai or aisymnitai) are in charge of putting in writing the law which this far was unwritten and customary.
Classic era (5th- 4th century BC): The rising of the law in a more dominant position in the legal orders of the Greek antiquity coincides with the establishment of democracy. The freedom of citizens cannot be restrained without a legislative provision that is the only source of compulsory regulation of human behavior.
The proposals of laws were submitted to the people (Ecclesia tou Demou) composed by all Athenian men who were born free and were above the age of 20 years) and were supposed to be in conformity with fundamental principles of governance. A “grafi paranomon” (lawsuit for illegitimacy) would be raised against the one who would submit as a proposal an “unconstitutional” provision, and that was tried before the Court (“Iliaia”). Possible contradictions within the laws were examined every year from the “thesmothetes” before the people (“Ecclesia tou Demou”).
The principles that run through the form of governance of the Athenian democracy were equality before the law (isonomia) and freedom (eleutheria). A citizen is considered free per definition with only restraint to obey the law, which he also participated in its creation.
The “Ecclesia tou Demou” decided on more important issues of the state, namely the declaration of war, the signature of peace, the accession and exit from alliances, the voting of laws and public economics and budget. A right to vote was granted to all “genuine/original” (“ex amfioin goneoin”) Athenian citizens after they were 20 years old and they had not been deprived from their political rights.
The “Ecclesia” was in regular session forty times a year and it held additional sessions whenever the circumstances made it necessary. The sessions took place in the Pnyka and some times in the market (“agora”) and the theater of Dionysos. After each person who wanted, gave a speech the decision was taken by raising their hands (“heirotonia”)
Even though the law was, according to the dominant view, the sole source of law, at least in the democratic cities of the classic era, the number of legislative texts was rather small. The Athenians of the 5th and the 4th century keep the legislation of Solon, as well as the law of Drakon on homicide, and the number of new provisions on private law is limited.
The oldest court in Athens was the “Areios Pagos” , the “epi Palladio” and “epi Delfinio”, the “en Freattoi” and the “epi Prytaneio” whose competence was reduced after 462 BC to intentional murder and some other, less important cases. Other courts also existed but some serious cases were tried by the Parliament (“Vouli”) or even the “Ecclesia”.
From the era of Solon and especially after the reform of Efialtis, the most important court was the “Iliaia” that looked a lot like the “Ecclesia tou Demou” because it was composed of 6000 citizens. “Iliaia” was the main court, formed not by professional judges but by all citizens. They would be randomly picked to be judges and all Athenians above thirty years old if there were no charges against them were eligible. The “Iliaia” was composed by 6000 judges (“Iliastai”), out of which 1000 were substitutes. They were divided in ten departments with numbers from A to K, each one with 500 judges. . Possibly, all Athenian tribes were represented in each one. In every trial a lottery took place and 201, 301, 401 or 500 judges were drawn from each department. The court was in partial session of 201, 401, 501 depending on the seriousness of the trial. The odd number of judges excluded the possibility of a tide. The judges were given two to three “ovolous” (the Athenian currency) on the day of the trial as compensation. A hydraulic timer, the “klepsydra”, determined the time of battle and re-battle. The voting was secret. Again, in each trial all tribes were represented.
The trials were of two kinds: public (“grafai”) and private (“dikai”). There was a different procedure for each kind. In the private trials there would be court fees (“prytaneia”) and the plaintiff had the option of settling with the defendant. In the public trials, it was the state’s interest to punish the crime and thus there were no court fees and there was no option for a settlement. If they parties decided to settle there was a fine of 100 drachmas.
After the composition of the court and the beginning of the trial, the plaintiff (“diokon”) would speak first and then the defendant (“feugon”) would take the stand second, but the time each one had to make their case was predetermined and limited in each case and they counted it with a special instrument (“klepsydra”). This was good because it made the speechwriters to avoid rambling and be right on point and write their speeches with care. There were also trials where time was unlimited for the participants.
Even though the law required for the plaintiff and the defendant to make their own case, friends, relatives or a lawyer could fill in their testimonies. It was common for professional speechwriters to write the speeches and then the plaintiff and the defendant would memorize the speech. After they made their case before the court, there would be a secret voting among the judges. In the case of a tide, the accused was found not guilty. In the private trials, unless the plaintiff got at least one fifth of the votes, they would pay a fine of one thousand drachmas and also they would have to refrain from similar law suits in the future.
The laws required that the plaintiff and the defendant were obliged to argue their own cases before the court, thus all interested parties resorted to the “logografous” (speech writers). These were experienced orators that, in exchange for money, wrote the texts of the speeches that the plaintiff and the defendant would memorize and make before the court.
Because the “Iliastai” the way Aristofanis presents them in his work “Sfikes” were simple Athenian citizens lacking prior legal education and judicial training, the “logografoi” had to know not only the law but also the psychology of the judges, so that they can influence them towards the interest of their clients. Lysias was the greatest speechwriter for court speeches.
Many great orators were acting in Attica at the time like Antifon, Andokides, Lysias, Isaios, Isokrates, Likourgos, Aishinis, Dimosthenis, Iperides, Deinarhos, Dimadis and others. Their work is very important because they demonstrate the life circumstances, ideas, political and moral values, and religion of the time. They are the main sources of the law of Attica. From their work we know the courts of a great city, the lawyers, the judges, those who committed fraud, and those who testified falsly.
The decisions of the “Iliastai” was final and only people who were tried absent could repeat the trial two months after the first trial. Also those who could prove that they were convicted because of false witness could be tried at any time.
At certain points the “Ecclesia tou Dimou” had judicial competence. This happened when there was a prosecution (“eisaggelia”) for a crime that could not be tried by the established courts, due to lack of provisions that determine the penalty for that crime. In that case the democratic body would either hold and try the crime itself, or send it to the competent court and determined the law under which the accused would be tried.
First the ancient Greeks established the idea of justice and they distinguished between the law by the state (positive law) and the idea of justice. With that meaning we find in the ancient tragedies the idea of justice or of natural law. A very crucial example is Antigone by Sophokles, where Antigone claims that natural law is the one she obeys in and thus she has to disobey state law (positive law), that is the order of Kreon not to bury her brother.
The sophists have also made the distinction between positive and natural law and they often criticized positive law as not being consistent with the idea of justice. Aristotle also mentions this distinction in the Ethica Nikomaheia. Mainly Cicero and Seneca also developed the idea of natural law in the Roman law. In Plato (Apology), Socrates drinks the conium (poison) believing in obedience to the laws of the city, even though he is wrongly accused. He explicitly recognizes that in Kriton. Thus, Plato may be seen as supporting a positive law attitude. Stoics on the other hand, are seen as the first strong supporters of natural law with their advanced theory on nature.
The ancient Greeks also tried to develop the law but never went as far as to create a legal science. Legal Philosophy however was very much developed by the Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, Epicureans and Stoics. There are notions of the law and many ancient Greek texts mention the law, like:
- Speeches of well known orators like Dimosthenis and Lysias that contained elements of law together with a scientific analysis
- The Laws of Plato (Nomoi) but also most of the Platonic works.
- The 158 Polities (Republics) of Aristotle and the work “About Laws” (“Peri Nomon”) by Theofrastos who was Aristotle’s student
All these works prove both a legal culture and a legal way of thinking.
The contradiction between Athens and Sparta is well known. In essence it is a contradiction between democracy and aristocracy (and it eventually led to the Peloponnesian war). In ancient Sparta all governing institutions were established by the “Great Clause” (“Megali Ritra”). The main governing body was the Senate (“Gerousia”), which was composed by 30 older men, the “Apella” (popular body during the holidays in honour of the god Apollo) and two kings (“arhagetas” which means “leaders”)
During the Hellenistic era the kingdoms were created and the law was mostly customary and justice was made in peoples’ courts with touring (“periodeuontes”) judges. Because of the variety of nations, there existed an analogous variety of legal systems that prevents the unity of law. As for the hierarchy of legal rules, the provisions created by the monarchs were on the top and then in the case of a legal void they would implement customary provisions and as a final resort they would be asked to judge “with conscience of justice” (something very close to what today we would call “equity”). A first form of Conflict of Laws was introduced at the time. In Ptolemaic Egypt for example there were three types of Courts: “Dikastiria” (or Dikasteria) for the affairs of the Greek-speaking populations, “Laokritas”, judges of the peoples for the other (non-Greek speaking) local populations and “Koinodikaion” (literally translated as Common Law), which were mixed courts for mixed cases.
During the Hellenistic era, the structure of the city-state of the classic antiquity, uniting people around the city community, is progressively abandoned. Coexistence with other national groups is encouraged in the years of Alexander the Great.
In any case, the Romans and not the Greeks are considered to be the ones who created the legal science.
The history of the Roman Law starts at the time written laws were established. They disciplined legal thought and were clearly oriented towards legal norms, and thus they created the legal science and also were considered to be the greater lawyers in the history of humanity.
The history of the Roman law starts from the time law became written. This was called “dodekadeltos nomos” and was put together by a commission. Great Roman legal scholars were Cicero, Seneca, Papinianus, Ulpianus and others. Regarding Roman Law the following can be observed:
- There is a distinction between the law of the Roman Empire (the democratically voted leges and the provisions from the plebeians, plebiscita , the edicta of the governors) from the law of the provinces.
- The idea of jus gentium is introduced, that there is a group of legal norms that are generally binding to all people
- The idea of the law is becoming more concrete (lex)
- The science of the law starts
- The governance system changes and it all moves to the power of one person, the Roman Emperor.
The legal science also continues in the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium). When the emperor Justinian came to the throne (527 AC) he thought that the entire legislation should be codified. Thus, for the first time in history one can see the process of codification. A committee with Trivonianus, renowned law expert of his time, was in charge of the project, which is known today as corpus juris civilis or the Ioustinianian Code.
During the Middle Ages in Europe feudalism creates new forms of legal relationships and balances affected to a large extent by the competence of the Catholic Church. The circumstances of political decentralization and the creation of small states reintroduce customary law, which was easier to implement due to circumstances.
The last codification of the Byzantine Empire law took place in 1345 B.C., by a judge in Thessalonica, Armenopoulos, and is known as the “Eksabiblos”.
During and after the 15th century with the inventions and the discovery of the new lands and the development of commerce, the Roman law is introduced once more, and the corpus juris civilis is studied again.
The Ottoman Empire was a very diverse society. It was characterized by the coexistence of populations with different nationalities and religions. The majority of Greek populations became part of the Empire after 1453 with the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed II, also known as the Conqueror.
Overall, the Ottoman Empire was a theocratic state. It was governed by Muslims according to Islamic Law. But the Ottoman society consisted of both Muslim and non-Muslim populations, a structure similar to a mosaic pattern. The governance form within the Empire was based on the millet. The millet system originally was used only to reference to Muslim populations, but then extended to non-Muslim ones. It allowed for a relatively peaceful coexistence of different nationalities and religious groups. The three largest millets were Islam, the Greek Orthodox (or Eastern Christian Orthodox) and the Jewish millet. Non-Muslims were often referred to as ‘Rayas’ that is those who do not participate in government.
The non-Muslim communities enjoyed a form of political autonomy. It was highly fragmented, and based on ecclesiastical hierarchy. The leaders of each religious group had a jurisdiction in deciding religious, educational and charitable issues for their own population. At the same time, religious leaders decided matters of personal and family status, such as marriage, divorce, adoption and inheritance. They were also assigned with collecting taxes and delivering them to the Ottomans.
In essence, the structure of the Ottoman Empire combined the nomadic way of life, Eastern Orthodox administration functions and the Islamic spirit. The Islam provided with a template of communal organization based on religious autonomy. This system was inherited from the successor-states of the Arab Caliphate. It implemented the ruling of the Quran, according to which Christians and Jews were, like Muslims, “People of the Book” (people to whom the Holy Scripture was revealed). Thus, they were entitled to protection and tolerance, as well as the opportunity to administer their own affairs as long as they were obedient and paid taxes. On a more practical level, this allowed the coexistence of numerous minorities without serious problems, but it also enabled the use of the skills of these minority populations and the effective collection of taxes.
Mehmed II according to some sources proclaimed the favorable terms of the Greek millet very early, immediately after the conquest of Constantinople. Thus, ecclesiastical tribunals continued to work.The system lasted until the creation of the modern Greek State in 1830.
Within time, the Ottoman Empire evolved to what was seen as an example of a pre-modern religious pluralism, and the millet system contributed to the maintenance of pluralism. It allowed for the functioning of a patch-work-like sociopolitical order, where each major religious community enjoyed a certain form of legal and cultural autonomy. The family, rather than the territory was the fundamental unit of organization. Religion and nationality were difficult to separate. The Ottoman state was the super state, and the millets could have been a form of legal sub-states. It was assigned mainly a form of policing function, protecting its subject from internal conflicts and external enemies.
The millet system was part of the Islamic law, that is religious law, but its content was one of religious tolerance, effectively creating a platform of each one’s religious practices and legal traditions and customs related to continue to function. The Eastern Orthodox Church continued to exist and function and was identified with the Roum nationality (that is, the Byzantine Greek nationality that later developed to become the Greek nationality). Greek was also the main language spoken among Greeks, since each millet had the legal right to use its own language. Overall, they were able to maintain their identity.
The head of the millet was the Orthodox Patriarch and was delegated political power from the Sublime Porte. His election required formal recognition from the Porte. A grand council of the Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church was under his headship.
It appeared that the laws of the Greek millet had their origins in older practices and customs, dating to the Byzantine era. The Greek community dealt with the problems of its members through the Council and its head (and other subdivisions of administration within the millet). In addition to the legal institutions, dealing with marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other personal civil affairs, they developed their own educational and cultural institutions. A very important aspect was that of the right to maintain independent courts for religious and personal matters. Judgments of these courts were enforced as forming part of the Ottoman administrative decisions. The head of the millet, through smaller subdivisions collected taxes and rendered them to the Sultan. An important source of information for records of transactions among Greek populations at the time were also Muslim religious courts (sijillat or sicillat). They were in charge of provincial administration but also the maintenance of records, official documents and certificates. Muslim law was supposed to apply only to Muslims, thus it remained inapplicable in disputes among subjects of other religious affiliation
After the 17th century the Eastern Orthodox populations turned to a more westernized education, as a result of commercial relations with the West. The Greeks became familiar with Western manners and learned Western languages. This put them in a more privileged position, enabling a more active participation in the Ottoman administration, as well as the negotiations between the Ottoman State and western powers.
Nevertheless, this form of autonomy granted to the Greek millet was not systematic, but rather based on ad hoc considerations and in a fragmented manner. The non-Muslim millets were not in equality with the Muslim, which was dominant. It was not until the Tanzimat period (mid-19th century) that the doctrine of equality played a more dominant role within the Ottoman Empire (then already in decline).
The affairs of the millets were under the jurisdiction of the Ottoman Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which indicate that they were treated as if they were foreign nations. However, a closer examination shows that the privileges granted to the millets were in a large extent different to those of foreign capitulations. The millets were considered part of the Ottoman administration. They did not enjoy the extra-territorial jurisdiction of capitulations but an intra-territorial set of privileges of self-organization, based on principles of Islamic law. The millet system was a significant method of the Ottoman Empire to address the practical issue of administration of a large territory with a variety of religious and national populations and deal with the minorities’ problem. .
Thus, the millet has been characterized as a church organized into a nationality, or a nationality organized into a church. Putting aside the injustices related to the Ottoman Empire towards its subjects and the inequality among the Islam millet and the other millets, this system of “non-territorial communal autonomy” is rightly perceived as a valuable example of coexistence of diverse ethnic populations that can assist to address what we nowadays observe as the exhaustion of the nation-state.
Modern Greek State
The state of modern Greece was created in 1830 with the treaty of Constantinople. After the creation of the Modern Greek state, the form of governance in the very first constitutions was democratic. Originally there was a constitution but after Otto, the first king of Greece was brought here, Greece was a kingdom without democratic participation or a constitution. In 1862 the regime changed. The transition from an authoritative kingdom to a constitutional kingdom took place in 1864. Otto left in 1862 and George the 1st was imposed in 1864. The new constitution was reformed in 1881 and later again in 1897. The form of governance became a constitutional monarchy. The principal moment of parliamentary reform however took place later, in 1875, when informally, the principle of the stated confidence of the majority of members of parliament to the government was established (and later incorporated expressis verbis in the text of the Constitution of 1927 and is located in article 84 of the current Constitution). Important events that followed were the bankruptcy of the state in 1893, the reformist movement of the armed forces in Goudi in 1909, the internal clash between monarchists and democrats in 1915-1922, the continuing military coups one after the other, the defeat in Asia Minor in 1922 , the Metaxas’ dictatorship in 1936-1941 and the German Occupation between 1941 and 1944.
After the end of the German occupation and the end of World War II starts a long period of instability and great problems for the Greek state (inter alia, there was a civil war). In 1967 after a military coup d’Etat, a dictatorship was established which lasted for 7 years. Then, the democratic regime was restored in 1974 and the Greek constitution was adopted.
The current constitution is the one after the military junta of 1967-1974. It was voted by the new parliament and it has been amended twice, once in 1986 and recently in 2001. The official name of the constitution is The Constitution of 1975/1986/2001 and each date states the adoption and each of the amendments.
The first article of the constitution defines the form of government is that of a parliamentary republic, popular sovereignty is the foundation of government and all powers derive from the People and exist for the People and the Nation. Article 2 of the constitution is very important because it reaffirms the respect and protection of the value of a human being as a primary obligation of the state. It continues by declaring that Greece, adhering to the generally recognized rules of international law, pursues the strengthening of peace and of justice, and the fostering of friendly relations between peoples and states. The possibility of a third upcoming amendment of the Constitution is currently being discussed.
Sources of Law-Public and Private Law
Constitutional Law: The main source of constitutional law in Greece is the Constitution of 1975/1986/2001 (available in English).
Administrative Law: The sources of administrative law are the relevant articles of the Constitution as well as numerous laws and codes regulating administrative process and other relevant issues.
Administrative Procedure: In Administrative Procedure the main legislation is the Code of Administrative Procedure as well as several other legislative texts that regulate the function of lower administrative courts and the Council of State. Through a complex system of distribution of issues, disputes are tried by either administrative courts (first instance or courts of appeal) or by the Council of State.
Criminal Law: The main legislative text in criminal law is the criminal code. It has a general and a special part. The general part (articles 1-133) defines what a crime is, what are the elements of a criminal act, when a criminal act is attributable to the perpetrator, issues on self-defense and state of emergency, what forms of malice and negligence there are, issues of attempt, conspiracy, incitement and contribution. Also it regulates issues on sentences, multiple crimes, juvenile criminals and probation.
The special part (articles 134-459) regulates specific crimes such as crimes against the state and the system of governance, treason, crimes against other states, crimes against the exercise of political rights and the elections, crimes against public authority, the public order, religious peace, crimes regarding the army draft, crimes relevant to monetary issues, and other official documents and negotiable instruments, crimes relevant to the system of justice, crimes of people under official capacity (corruption and bribery), crimes dangerous to the general public, crimes against the safety of public transportation, crimes against life, crimes against integrity, crimes against personal freedom, sexual crimes, crimes relevant to marriage and family, honor crimes, breach of classified materials, crimes against property, crimes against property rights and other minor crimes.
The code of Criminal Procedure regulates all the issues of prosecution, evidence, interrogation and trial.
Public International Law is also part of public law. The relevant article of the Constitution declaring the place of Public International Law within the Greek legal order is article 28. Public International Law binding upon Greece is General International Law, Customary Law and Treaties in which Greece is a party to.
European Law: Since Greece is a member of the European Communities and the European Union, it is bound by the EU legislation. The regulations are binding without any other procedure or requirement, whereas for the directives it is more complicated, there is a time-frame until which they are not binding unless certain requirements are fulfilled.
Civil code: After the establishment of the modern Greek state (1832) the first efforts to put together a civil code started. In the meanwhile, regional civil codes isxuan, like the Ionian Code of 1841, the Samiakos Code of 1899 and the Cretan code of 1903. The last effort to create a civil code was effective and it was initiated by the government of Eleutherios Venizelos. The committee that was charged with the work was composed by important legal scholars (Mpalis, Triantafyllopoulos, Maridakis, Thivaios) and it drafted a full draft civil code. It tethike se isxy with the law 2250/1940 but due to the German occupation that followed, it started working on the 23rd of February 1946. Many changes were made after that, among which the most important were with the law 1250/1982 and the law 1329/1983 that established the civil wedding and the equality between men and women. The Civil Code came in effect in 1946. It has been in effect since, covering most issues of private law. It has been amended several times, through various laws and also, specific legislation has been adopted vis-à-vis several chapters, like labor law or corporation law (in corporation law there is the commercial code that provides for additional and more detailed regulation of issues regarding corporations, negotiable instruments and intellectual and industrial property).
The Civil Code has five chapters, namely General Principles, Contract Law, Property Law, Family Law and Hereditary Law. The three other main legislative texts that are relevant to the Civil code and provide for additional provisions or more detailed regulation are the Code of Civil Procedure (regulating the procedure in courts as far as civil trials are concerned), the Commercial Code (providing special legislation in particular regarding corporations) and legislation regarding labor issues.
The chapter of General Principles (articles 1-286) begins with three provisions of general application, determining that sources of law are legislation and custom, and regulating retroactivity of laws and public order. Then, articles 2 to 33 are the provisions of Greek private international law, that together with the Brussels convention (Council Regulation 44/2001) and the law of Greek citizenship 3284/2004 regulate most of the issues of conflict of laws. Various specific treaties, ratified by Greece exist in this area, regulating specific issues of conflict of laws.
The other chapters of General Principles regulate issues of who has a legal capacity, when a person begins and ceases to exist, other information on identity (address, right to personality, name), legal entities and how they start and cease to exist, capacity for being a party to a contract and general issues of going into a contract, issues of deadlines and start and finishing of legal relationships, power of attorney, consent, public order and public morals.
Contract Law (articles 287-946) has a general and a special part. The general part has provisions applicable to all contracts, regardless of their nature, and it becomes very useful in the cases of gaps of law. It regulates what are the parties to a contract, issues of payment and interest, pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage, when, where how and by whom can the contract be fulfilled, and what happens in different cases of breach, dissolution and void of contract. The special part regulates specific kinds of contracts like donation, selling and exchange, lease, labor contract, mediation, order, corporation, rights shared by more than one persons, loans, depository, guarantee, compromise, negotiable instruments, torts and others.
Property Law (articles 947-1345) in Greece is structured on four types of property rights (numerus clausus). One of them is possession, and the other three are other forms of property rights such as mortgage and pawn. Possession varies between movable and immovable property.
Family Law (articles 1346-1709) has been through two legislative changes. The first was in 1980, and it introduced the option of civil marriage while abolishing certain old fashioned regulations (i.e. dowry). The second took place in 2002 and it regulated issues of medical assistance to human reproduction. The part about family law starts with provisions on engagement and marriage and then it continues with chapters on pecuniary and personal relations of husband and wife, divorce, which people are considered to be relatives, who and when has obligation to support financially members of their family, relationships between parents and children, adoption, custody of children, foster children and other relevant issues.
Inheritance Law (articles 1710-2035) regulates issues relevant to wills and their content as well as cases of inheriting persons that did not make a will. Certain members of a family (spouse and children) are entitled to heritage in any case, through the provisions of legal share. It also regulates the legal position of persons that are not entitled to inherit the deceased, what are the legal relations between many heiresses and who shall execute the will and how.
Other Codes are the Code of Civil Procedure, the Commercial Code and the Maritime Code. The legislation of Corporations changed recently. The new law 3604/2007 amended the law of 2190/1920. The purpose of the change was to codify recent changes in Corporate Law but also to incorporate the changes introduced by the Directive 2006/68/EC.
Legal Professions in Greece
The most common legal professions in Greece are practicing lawyer, judge, notary and legal advisor.
In order for someone to practice law in Greece, they must obtain a law degree by graduating successfully from a School of Law. There are three Law Schools in Greece, namely Athens, Thessaloniki and Komotini.
- University of Athens, School of Law
- University of Thessalonica, School of Law
- University of Thrace, School of Law
Graduates from all three Schools are eligible to register at Bar Associations. Then, after a required 18-month traineeship, they sit for the Bar Exam. There are 63 Bar Associations, as many as the Courts of First Instance in Greece.
Various lawyers’ websites:
After graduation from law school, the following options are available:
- Practicing lawyer: an 18month traineeship is mandatory in a law firm and then after exams, those who passed are being registered in the registry of the Bar Association. The Code of Conduct for Lawyers (“Kodikas peri dikigoron”) regulates the exercise of the legal profession. A lawyer can work as a freelancer and offer legal services but also for a salary, as a legal advisor to banks, corporations, organizations and others.
- Judge, Prosecutor: In order to become a judge in Greece one has to be admitted in the National School of Judges through examinations that happen periodically and graduate from there successfully. The examinations vary depending on the department of law one wants to work in, and, thus there are different examinations for administrative and civil courts. In order to sit for the exam, the main criteria are graduation from law school and at least 27 years of age. In order for one to become a judge, they have to attend the national school for judges, which is situated in Thessalonica. In order to be admitted one has to pass an examination in Public Law, Civil law and civil procedure, Commercial and Corporate Law as well as Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure. All those admitted have a general education but later they are chosen, after another examination for a particular specialization (civil and criminal or administrative courts), depending on their performance on the relevant law.
- Notary: In order to become a notary one must have practiced as a lawyer in advance. After that, those interested participate in a written examination that the Ministry of Justice holds every year to fill in vacant positions. The exercise of this profession regulates the code for Notaries (“Kodikas Symvolaiografon”)
- Academic Career: One has to have a doctorate degree from a domestic or a foreign University. There is an announcement for positions by each law school separately and a cadre-law on advanced academic institutions regulates the process of choice.
- Diplomatic Corps: The graduate of a law school can become a diplomat after they are admitted and have a successful attendance in the School for the Diplomatic Corps. The examinations for the admission are considered to be the most difficult national examinations, since the fields of examination are vast. The knowledge of English and French is a requirement.
- Public Sector: Legal studies allow the access to commissions and committees of the public sector, the school of public administration, legal persons of Public law, organizations of local governments, independent administrative authorities and others.
Greek legal texts and documents, as well as case law, are not generally available online. When they are online, a subscription is required to one of the currently available databases. Legal texts can be obtained in hard copies in codified forms from the major legal publishers in Greece.
When researching on comparative and foreign law, one may refer to the Institute of International and Foreign Law 73 Solonos Street, Athens, tel: 011-30-210 36 15 737 , 361 56 646 fax : 011-30-210 361 9 777
- Ant. N. Sakkoulas
- Sakkoulas Publications
- Law and Economics P.N Sakkoulas
- Nomiki Bibliothiki
- Nomikes Ekdoseis
- Epitheorisi IKA Asfalistikou kai Ergatikou Dikaiou
- Nomos Database
- Database of Legal Information
- Greek Legal Information Database (Athens Bar Association)
- General Secretariat of National Statistical Service
- National Documentation Center
- Electronic Catalog of Libraries of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
- European Public Law Center
- Center of International and European Economic Law
- Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy
- Hellenic Center for European Studies
- Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights
- Institute of International Relations
- Research Center for Gender Equality
- Center for European Constitutional Law
- Institute of International Public Law and International Relations
- Greek Penal Lawyers Association
Chambers of Commerce and Industry
- Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry
- Heraclion Chamber of Commerce and Industry
- Thessaloniki Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Civil and Human Rights-related committees and authorities
- National Committee for Human Rights
- Hellenic Data Protection Authority
- The Greek Ombudsman
- National Bioethics Commission
- National Center of Public Administration and Self Administration
- Mediterranean Programme for International Environmental Law and Negotiation
- General Greek Labour Union
- Greek Manpower Employment Organization
- Hellenic Property Federation
- Hellenic Organization of Standardization
- General Consumers’ Federation of Greece
- Greek Company of Local Development and Self-Government
- General Secretariat of New Generation/Youth
- Hellenic Telecommunications and Post Commission
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Κ.Μαυριάς, Συνταγματικό Δίκαιο (τρίτη έκδοση κατά το αναθεωρημένο Σύνταγμα και τους εκτελεστικούς νόμους), εκδόσεις Αντ.Ν.Σάκκουλα,Αθήνα-Κομοτηνή, 2004
Σούρλας Π., Justi atque injusti scientia, Μια Εισαγωγή στην επιστήμη του Δικαίου, εκδόσεις Αντ.Ν.Σάκκουλα, Αθήνα-Κομοτηνή (1995)
Σούρλας Π., Φιλοσοφία του Δικαίου, Μια ιστορική εισαγωγή, εκδόσεις. Αντ. Ν. Σάκκουλα 2000
Σ.Τρωϊανός- Ι.Βελισσαροπούλου-Καράκωστα, Ιστορία Δικαίου, εκδόσεις Αντ.Ν.Σάκκουλα, Αθήνα-Κομοτηνή (2002)
Athens University, School of Law, online curriculum (in Greek)
Greek Constitution (in English)
Bibliography on the Millet System
A. Bertram, The Orthodox Privileges in Turkey, with Special Reference to Wills and Successions, 10 Journal of the Society of Comparative Legislation, 1909 pp. 126-140
W. J. Cahnmann, Religion and Nationality, 49 American Journal of Sociology 1944 pp. 524-529
R. Davison, Turkish Attitudes Concerning Christian-Muslim Equality in the Nineteenth Century, 59 American Historical Review 1954 pp.844-864
K. S. Abu Jaber, The Millet System in the Nineteenth- Century Ottoman Empire, 57 Muslim World 1967 pp. 212-223
A. Levy, Review of Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire: The Functioning of a Plural Society by Benjamin Braude; Bernard Lewis, 65 The Journal of Religion, 1985, pp. 565-568
S. J. Shaw, Review of Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire: The Functioning of a Plural Society by Benjamin Braude; Bernard Lewis, 94 American Historical Review 1989 pp. 1142-1143
A. Joseph Toynbee, The Ottoman Empire in World History, 99 Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 1955 pp.119-126
W. F. Weiker, The Ottoman Bureaucracy: Modernization and Reform, 13 Administrative Science Quarterly 1968 pp.451-470