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For a more efficient justice in Italy

The CEPEJ is celebrating its 5th anniversary. These last five years have been very important, as much for the CEPEJ – in view of the work assigned by the Committee of Ministers – as for the member states which based the reforms of their judicial system on the work of the Commission.

Italy, for example, is undergoing great changes in its judicial system to improve its efficiency and the quality of the service offered to citizens.

The slowness of proceedings, which is an inherent problem of the Italian judicial system, has led to the following of a suitable plan for the efficiency of proceedings, because efficiency is justice.

Nowadays, to guarantee the functioning of justice means setting up a secure social situation, in which the individual person recognises him/herself, a society in which he/she can think, act, choose freely and responsibly. The quality of justice has a direct consequence on the quality of life; for an efficient justice-system is indissolubly linked to a competitive country-system. A trustworthy judicial system in Europe helps to increase a country’s competitiveness.

The system must aim to deliver fair decisions; In order to do this, it must be credible, through the effective ability to promote the access by users to judges and to impose the seal of quality of a service rendered to the organisation of the judicial system as a whole.

There is in Italy a real desire to create an information and welcome culture of citizens who are either directly or indirectly a party to trials, victims or witnesses – and called upon to exercise their civic rights.

The management of court timeframes and the needs of court users must be made to match: starting with office opening hours and the scheduling of hearings, by developing an efficient and useful customer service – from the location of offices to the use of electronic communication – to provide information on existing services and on the way to avail of them. A reception desk must also exist, to deal with urgent matters. And last but not least, the Italian legislator should encourage administrative transparency to give a concrete meaning to the principle of equal treatment.

The topics on which one can rely on for an adapted intervention were identified, for their most part, thanks to the legislative initiatives put forward by the Ministry of Justice. Draft laws to speed up civil and criminal proceedings have been presented, as was also the case for the reorganisation of judicial offices, from an administrative point of view, and with the employment of new staff members in mind.

Where civil proceedings are concerned, on the whole, reforms were initiated to allow the introduction of simplified proceedings and to make everyone participating in the trial, in the light of the length of proceedings, face up to their responsibilities, without ever losing sight of the constitutional conditions of a fair trial: adversarial principle, reasonable length of proceedings, judge’s impartiality, substantial reasoning of the decision. Standards have been provided for to allow flexibility in relation to the difficulty of cases, by nominating a judge to conduct the trial, and consequently, to be responsible for (including at a disciplinary level) the reasonable length of the trial. Further standards will be introduced to encourage judicial settlement, and, at the same time, to reform the discipline of the decision by warding off shortened forms of reasoning.

In the criminal area, “the course” taken by a trial is reviewed in order to fully realise the two principles contained in Art.111 of the Italian Constitution – adversarial principle and reasonable duration. Concrete answers were put forward – and being examined by Parliament – to re-rationalise, and even reinforce the system without giving up real guarantees. Numerous acts, still considered as crimes, would therefore be decriminalised. Lastly, in the light of the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and of the legislation in force in many European countries, trials of serious indictable offences conducted in absentia are, on the whole, considered archaic in Italy and is need of in-depth revision.

To sum up, with a systematic intervention on procedural, substantial and organisational standards, Italy wants to address the problem of the efficiency of proceedings and the protection of rights and guarantees face on, it is clear that to intervene on proceedings and their functioning must not only take into consideration judges and lawyers alone, as it would affect the interests of all citizens. It is therefore a choice for democracy.

Fausto de Santis
Director General at the Ministry of Justice of Italy
President of the CEPEJ