Italy’s 'crazy' judicial system in 'critical state'

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Italy's Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP
15:04 CEST+02:00
An analyst at the OECD told The Local on Friday that Italy’s legal system is in a “critical situation”, as a report by the organization shows that it takes an average of more than 1,000 days for a case to go through the country's highest court.

“Italy stands out in various areas as being in a critical situation,” Giuseppe Nicoletti, head of the OECD’s Structural Policy Analysis Division, told The Local on Friday.

“In all stages of judgements, it always has the longest duration. In Switzerland a case takes 400 days to go through the three courts (court of first instance, appeal court and supreme court) but in Italy it takes 1,000 days [for each of the two appeals]. It’s crazy,” Nicoletti said. 

The analyst spoke to The Local on the day the OECD’s ‘What Makes Civil Justice Effective?’ report was presented in Rome, which compared the legal systems of 31 OECD countries as well as those of Russia and South Africa.

And Italy came bottom of the table in terms of the time it takes for a case to conclude in the courts.

Researchers found that the trial length in the court of first instance takes an average of 564 days in Italy, compared to the OECD average of 240 days. In comparison in Japan proceedings in trial last for an average of 107 days. 

“There’s a paradox; Italy has one of the highest rates of cases solved per judge but the duration of trials is among the highest,” said Nicoletti, who supervised the report. 

He put this down to a backlog of cases which has been accumulating for more than 20 years. “It’s a deficit which turns into a debt," he said. 

Impact on economy

The analyst believes the impact of the bungling judicial system goes far beyond the courts themselves and has much wider implications for Italy.

A slow judicial system “interferes with economic performance,” Nicoletti said. “Italy has a relatively low rate of foreign direct investment. Part of this is due to the uncertainty created by inefficiency in the civil justice system for the investor.”

Management of the system is inefficient, Nicoletti said, who claims lawyers themselves have profited from the sluggish system.

“The way in which lawyers are remunerated gives them incentives to lengthen the duration of the procedures,” he said.

Political instability hindering justice

The country’s recent history of political instability has further added to Italy’s judicial woes. 

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“What is clear is that there is a need for continuity. What is really detrimental to any kind of reform is incoherent measures from one government to another and backing off measures that have been taken in the past,” Nicoletti said.

“The head of justice in the last three governments all went in the same direction in broad terms. The details are not so encouraging; some governments had measures that were desirable but the next government has backed off under pressure from lobbies.”

However the problems of Italy’s judicial system cannot be solved with just money, the report found as Switzerland and Italy both allocate around 0.2 percent of GDP to court budgets, but as shown above Switzerland has a far more efficient system.

The Italian government needs to take a closer look at the impact reforms are having, Nicoletti said. “Reforms are legislated in Italy but there is no evaluation of whether they are having the desired effects. This is absolutely needed.”

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