Chief Justice cannot believe his ears

This almost qualifies as a ‘Monday smiles‘ post, but sadly for Italians or anyone involved with or affected by the Italian legal system, it isn’t a joke.

Here are a few quotes from a Reuters news feed a few days ago. There is a link to the full article at the end of this post if you want to find out more. The bold emphasis is mine.

‘The U.S Supreme Court reviews around 100 appeals per year. The number for Italy’s top appeals court, serving a population a fifth the size? More than 80,000.
Italy has 40,000 lawyers specializing in supreme court cases. According to Valerio Spigarelli, head of Italy’s top criminal lawyers body, the number in neighboring France, with a similar population, is 25. They are among 240,000 lawyers in Italy, compared to 54,000 in the country next door.
Statistics like this give a glimpse into a chaotic, byzantine legal system which not only reduces citizens to despair and has senior judges tearing out their hair…’

‘U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts could not believe how many cases were brought before Italy’s supreme Court of Cassation each year, said Michele Vietti, vice president of Italy’s top magistrates body the CSM, describing a recent visit to Washington. “He thought he hadn’t understood the translation properly,” Vietti told Reuters.’

‘It is insane. For a one euro bus ticket we have three trials.’

‘”The Cassation is submerged by so many cases that it cannot even ascertain contradictions within the system,” said Davigo, who is now a supreme court judge. He added there was no law of precedent because the judges could not read all the cases.’

‘Paola Severino, one of Italy’s top lawyers, told parliament last November shortly after becoming justice minister: “It would be mistaken, given the limited duration of this government, to put legal reform at the center of our program. It would be beyond our strength and possibilities.” You can hardly blame her.’

Reuters News and Insight ‘Overloaded justice system ties Italy in knots‘.

7 thoughts on “Chief Justice cannot believe his ears

  1. Wow! And we think Americans are litigious… I wonder what the rest of the Italian court system looks like, though. Given the small size of the country, I wouldn’t be surprised if they have fewer steps to take before these cases reach the top. Any Italian legal translators to chime in?

  2. Dear Juliette, The case load for the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) is over 300 000 (let me spell that out: three hundred thousand) lawsuits a year. This is so because almost anything can start at a trial court and move on to the STF. The Brazilian legal system has been designed to make appeals a rule and not the exception, thus prioritizing debtors and anyone interested in a 20-year long litigation. As a result, the country barely knows what the STF decides, the name of the Justices etc. And there’s another peculiar feature of the Brazilian system: most of the decisons of the STF are non binding!!! So they can be overturned by any trial court in the country, and a new lawsuit on the same issue has to go all the way up again!! It is the craziest environment for businesses and legal relations, because the system lacks basic stability and minimum credibility!! If we at least had the Italian legal system, the country would be much better off! 🙂 warm regards, Luciana

  3. Thanks for kicking off the discussion Carolyn. And thanks very much indeed for sharing the situation in Brazil, Luciana. Incredible. Looking forward to hearing what other people have to say too.

  4. Thanks for flagging up this article. It’s talen me a while to get round to replying, but here we go:

    The amount of time all legal proceedings take in Italy is, in general, astonishing. On top of the figures in the article, I read not long ago in a World Bank report that Italy is 156th out of 181 countries for the average length of civil proceedings, just behind Gabon and Guinea. Another WB report shows that it takes an average of 1,210 days just to enforce a contract (http://bit.ly/I7mdAR – p171).

    If “justice delayed is justice denied” for many, many people and businesses in Italy, it’s also a massive disincentive to foreign investment. British Gas recently gave up a huge regasification project in Puglia after 11 (I think) years of legal wrangling.

    As to the root causes: a ‘hyper-perfectionist’ system with, as noted, even minor cases going all the way up the Court of Cassation; outdated organisational systems and the sheer volume of cases still open creating paralysis and confusion; judges and magistrates that are not accountable; a statute of limitations that sees delays used as a form of defence; and a complete breakdown in trust between government and judiciary (especially with Mr B and his accusations) making reform a very steep uphill battle.

    The delays have another cost for Italy: after the EU’s admonitions, the Pinto Law made it possible for those suffering through long trials to get compensation from the State, so far amounting to hundreds of millions of euros. The Court of Auditors even has the power to make judges contribute to these payouts, but since the problem is so widespread (and the Court of Auditors is one of the worst offenders!) it rarely does so.

    It is worth noting that there are some chinks of light among the general darkness, though. Some of northern Italy’s courts are among the most efficient in the world. In Turin in the mid-2000s, a judge called Mario Barbuto revolutionised the whole system simply by incentivising magistrates and lawyers to get old cases off the books and fostering the pursuit of a common goal. The city was hailed by the ECHR as having the most efficient civil court system in Europe in 2007, only to cede its crown in 2008 to Trieste and then, in 2009, to Bolzano.

    It can, therefore, be done! But so far only in isolated cases. As to the chances of sweeping, national reform: non trattenere il fiato [don’t hold your breath]!

  5. Pingback: Innovative lawmaking in Finland | From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

  6. Pingback: Reforms of Italian civil justice – Reporting from London | From Words to Deeds: translation & the law

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