The Italianist

Things That Happen in Italy

Short! In the Name of Law!

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It’s hard not to talk about the last proposal from the Italian Government to reform the judicial system. The legal apparatus represents the core of the present Government’s concerns. The Italian PM has always made clear that he intends to fight, wholeheartedly, against what he sees as the pathology of our society: namely, the judiciary. One of the main faults of the Italian legal system is that there are too many trials, too much money is spent on them, and most of all, they last for too long. This is a serious problem for Italy. So, here is the solution: make the trial shorter! If the accused is not definitely proven guilty after 6 years, the trial ends (with an acquittal, of course) due to the statute of limitations. A full account of this bill can be found here , here, and here

There are different ways to explain this governmental policy. Some (probably judge-related) people say it is the umpteenth act of a man who seeks to avoid the legal consequences of his illegal conduct. Some offer a medical explanation for this new bill (see this interesting blog.) Rather than going into the details of this new law, I think it is important to focus on the Government’s effort to make the legal system “better”.

Berlusconi, as I said, has been the leader of the crusade to extirpate the cancer of legal justice from Italy. He’s been doing this for 15 years. He’s the William Wallace who screams “Freedom!” against the judge who orders him to confess. We should give him credit for this.  


 I think it is important to offer a brief summary of Silvio’s strenuous effort to reform the legal system. (This is going to be a very short selection.) 

 In 1994, Berlusconi has just won the election. Yet, he already knows who his enemy is. Thus, he decides to take action immediately against the worrying number of arrests in Italy. This happens just after the scandal of Bribesville has just wiped out  the italian political class (so to speak: they all, minus one, came back later). The Minister of Justice (at that time), Alfredo Biondi, then proposes a bill  to avoid pre-trail arrest for some crimes, including corruption. Incidentally, the brother of Berlusconi, Paolo, is under charge for corruption.

In  2001, the second Berlusconi Government prescribes that rogatory letters are not be considered valid evidence at a trial. It is a coincidence that this law makes it harder to investigate some dodgy story about Cesare Previti, the (at the time) lawyer of Berlusconi, who is accused of corrupting some judges in Rome. A few months later, another strategic move to fight the judges’ interference with the life of the good citizens: the depenalization of account business fraud. A side-effect of this bill is that Berlusconi’s  involvement in three trials for account fraud is put on hold. 

Later in 2002, the Cirami bill  allows defendants to ask for the transfer of their trial to a different court, when there is ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the judges are biased. Now, it seems that this bill may be a cause of the extreme lengths of criminal trials in Italy and that, therefore, it goes against Berlusconi’s effort to make the legal system go smoothly. Nevermind. Also, as an effect of the Cirami bill, Berlusconi’s trial for bribing judges in the SME affair move towards a quick conclusion.

In 2004, judges are still threatening Italy’s health, trying to put politicians under charge. Hence, the Schifani bill declares the immunity for the 5 highest figures of the State, and the immediate stop to any legal proceeding they might be involved into. The 5 are: the President of the Republic, the President of the Senate, the President of the Chamber, the Prime Minister, the President of the Constitutional Court. When the bill is proposed, only the Prime Minister has (several) legal trials to deal with. Nonetheless, it is clear that the law is meant to be to the country’s benefit. Unfortunately, the judges manage to prevail again and the bill is rejected for violating the Italian Constitution.  

At this point, the strategy becomes clear: we need shorter trials. Hence, the ex-Cirielli bill is issued, with the aim of halving the status of limitation. Again, as an effect of this law, many of the charges Berlusconi is dealing with are cancelled. Also, Cesare Previti, his ex-lawyer, seems to benefit from the bill, to the point that some ignorant still call it “Save Previti Law“. 

The truce does not last for long. Italy is still ill, the pathology (the judges) is still dragging it towards the abyss. Thus the Government makes a new attempt to cure Italy. This is the famous Alfano bill. This law is very similar to the previous, unconstitutional,  Schifani bill, yet it has a crucial difference: it holds not that the 5, but only the 4 highest figures of the State are beyond the law. (The poor President of the Consitutional Court can, instead, be charged for illegal behaviour. Probaly, Alfano must have thought  “That’s why the previous bill was unconstitutional! Gotcha!”). Like with the Schifani bill, when the Alfano bill is proposed the only ‘figure’ who’s got (lots of) trials to deal with is the Prime Minister. This time too, the blindness of the Consitutional Court rejects the bill as violating the principles of the Italian Constitution.

The Italian Government must, at this point, realize that the only effective way to fight the judges is to go back to the attempt to shorten the trials as much as possible. A strategy that seems to have been more successful than trying to establish immunity. Notice that the principle behind the latter idea was “we’ll charge them later”. Now, the policy seems to shift to “we charge them now, briefly and that’s it”. With some provisos, of course.

In fact, the new statutes of limitations would apply only if one has a clean record. Does it mean that those who have not been condemned in the past because of statute of limitations are covered by the law? Yes, it means that. Does it also mean that, if (for example) I’ve been previously found guilty of immigration, the new bill will not apply to me and I will have to go to the whole length? Yes, in the name of law.

But what if I have corrupted judges, yet have not been condemned because of the statutes of limitations? Then I’ll be covered by the bill. Which means: if someone wants to put me under trial now, they’d better be quick. Very quick.


Written by TheItalianist

15/11/2009 at 18:04

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