Italy passes law to stop criminals profiting from slow-paced justice system

Italian lawmakers have approved a new law extending a series of statutes of limitations for court cases, a move aimed at reducing the number of criminals who escape punishment because of Italy's snail-paced judicial system.

Italy passes law to stop criminals profiting from slow-paced justice system
Italy's supreme court in Rome. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Unlike most countries, Italy counts the time when a first conviction is being appealed as part of the limitation period.

As many cases take years to come to court in the first place, with suspects then allowed two appeals with hearings that can stretch over months, convicted criminals can often rely on running out the clock to avoid jail.

Under the new law, approved by parliament late on Wednesday, the first 18 months after an initial conviction will not be part of the limitations period, nor will the 18 months after a conviction is upheld if the defence takes the case to the final court of appeal.

The highest-profile case to time out recently was former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's 2015 conviction for bribing a senator in 2006, in an attempt to bring down the Italian government at the time.

Had the new law been in place two years ago, the additional three years for the statute of limitations might have provided enough time to see Berlusconi's three-year prison sentence confirmed on appeal.

The new law also starts the limitations counter for violent and sexual crimes against minors from the victim's 18th birthday.

And it introduces a six-month deadline for judges carrying out a preliminary examination of a case to make a decision on whether to send it to court or shelve it.

For terrorism and mafia cases, a longer period of 15 months will be allowed.

The law also toughens sentences for burglary and purse snatching-type thefts, lifting the minimum sentence to three years from one. For armed robbery the minimum was raised to four years from three.

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Italy’s president calls for ‘full truth’ on anniversary of Bologna bombing

President Sergio Mattarella said on Tuesday it was the state's duty to shed more light on the 1980 bombing of Bologna's train station, on the 42nd anniversary of the attack that killed 85 people and injured 200.

Italy's president calls for 'full truth' on anniversary of Bologna bombing

On August 2nd 1980, a bomb exploded in the railway station’s waiting room, causing devastation on an unprecedented scale.

Five members of terrorist groups were later convicted in relation to the bombing, the worst episode in Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’ period of political violence in the 1970s and 80s.

Most recently, in 2020, a former member of the far-right Armed Revolutionary Nucleus (NAR) was sentenced to life imprisonment for providing logistical support to those who carried out the attack.

But suspicions remain of cover-ups and the involvement of “deviant elements” within the nation’s security services, reported Italian news agency Ansa.

READ ALSO: Bologna massacre: 40 years on, questions remain over Italy’s deadliest postwar terror attack

“The bomb that killed people who happened to be at the station on that morning 42 years ago still reverberates with violence in the depths of the country’s conscience,” Mattarella said in a speech marking the anniversary on Tuesday.

“It was the act of cowardly men of unequalled inhumanity, one of the most terrible of the history of the Italian Republic.

A train compartment at Bologna station pictured following the 1980 bombing attributed to the neo-fascist terrorist organization Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari.

“It was a terrorist attack that sought to destabilise democratic institutions and sow fear, hitting ordinary citizens going about their everyday tasks.

“On the day of the anniversary our thoughts go, above all, to the relatives forced to suffer the greatest pain.

“The neo-fascist nature of the massacre has been established in court and further steps have been made to unveil the cover-ups and those who ordered the attack in order to comply with the Republic’s duty to seek the full truth”.

The bombing remains Western Europe’s fourth deadliest postwar terror attack, and one of the most devastating in Italy’s history.