More judges, faster trials: Italy approves major overhaul of criminal justice system

Italy’s justice system is known for having some of Europe's most congested courts, drawn-out legal procedures and exorbitant costs - but could all this soon become a thing of the past?

More judges, faster trials: Italy approves major overhaul of criminal justice system
An inscription at a courthouse in Calabria reads "The law is equal for all". Photo: Gianluca CHININEA / AFP

The Italian parliament on Thursday approved reform of the criminal justice system, and has also given the initial green light for changes to the civil side.

Reforming Italy’s creaking justice system is one of the toughest tasks facing Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government – and one of the conditions the EU attached to the granting of the post-virus recovery fund.

The percentage of cases resolved has been falling for the past decade and timeframes have stretched to the longest in the EU after Greece, according to the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ).

A case takes in theory 527 days to be resolved in Italy, compared to 420 in France and just 94 in Luxembourg, according to a 2020 report.

Delays are not simply a headache for those involved, but have an impact on business activity.

Brussels has insisted on reform “because the efficiency of justice goes hand in hand with the promotion of investments, particularly by foreign companies”, Maurizio Bellacosa, professor of criminal law at Rome’s Luiss university, told AFP.

Some 2.3 billion euros of the EU funds has been earmarked to speed up legal procedures, by 40 percent in civil cases and 25 percent in criminal matters.

At the heart of the criminal reform is a plan to reduce the limitation periods for less serious cases, where currently no deadline exists after the initial judgment.

Initial appeals must now be resolved within two years, with final appeals lasting a year, after which the legal action ends.

The most serious cases such as terrorism, mafia activity, drug trafficking and sexual violence will be allowed five and 2.5 years respectively, with no limits on crimes involving life sentences.

READ ALSO: ‘Ndrangheta: Major Italian mafia ‘maxi-trial’ kicks off with over 350 defendants

The reform will not fully come into effect until 2025, to allow time to clear some of the backlog which has been made worse by coronavirus pandemic,which paralysed the courts for months.

One crucial element in its success will be the recruitment of more magistrates and assessors, notably in the appeal courts.

“The reform must be accompanied by large investments to make the judicial machine more efficient, in terms of structures, an increase in magistrates and personnel,” Bellacosa added. “That’s the real challenge.”

However, not everyone is wholly behind the reform plan.

Leading anti-mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri is one of those who has warned it could have disastrous effects.

 “Fifty percent of trials will be declared inadmissible in appeal or in cassation (final appeal),” he warned earlier this month.

“Europe said ‘make trials faster’, not to stop having trials.”

But Draghi is under pressure to push through the reforms to show Brussels he is serious about making the changes necessary to secure the EU funds, which Italy is hoping will help it climb out of a deep recession sparked by the pandemic.

The deal with Brussels states that the European Commission will not authorise further payments until Italy meets the milestones and targets set out in its plan.

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Italian killer with mafia links arrested in France after 16 years on the run

A convicted murderer linked to one of Italy's most powerful mafia organisations was arrested on Thursday in central France, Interpol said.

Italian killer with mafia links arrested in France after 16 years on the run

Edgardo Greco, 63, is suspected of belonging to the notorious ‘Ndrangheta, a powerful mafia organisation in Calabria, southern Italy.

He is wanted in Italy to serve a life sentence for the murders of Stefano and Giuseppe Bartolomeo, and accused of the attempted murder of Emiliano Mosciaro “as part of a mafia war between the Pino Sena and Perna Pranno gangs that marked the early 1990s”, Interpol said.

The Bartolomeo brothers were beaten to death with iron bars in a fish warehouse, Italian police said.

Greco’s arrest in central France came with help for Italy and France from the “Cooperation against ‘Ndrangheta Project” (I-CAN) run by Interpol, which facilitates police cooperation between its 195 member states.

READ ALSO: Italian police seize €250 million and arrest 56 in latest mafia blitz

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, quoted in Interpol’s statement, said the arrests demonstrated his country’s commitment to “fighting all forms of organised crime and locating dangerous fugitives”.

The ‘Ndrangheta is considered Italy’s most extensive and powerful mafia group, Interpol said, operating worldwide and with strong ties to the trade in cocaine bound for Europe from South America

I-CAN’s job is help raise awareness of ‘Ndrangheta and their modus operandi, sharing police information to dismantle their networks and operations, the agency said.

The arrest of Greco, who worked in the evenings in a pizza restaurant under an assumed named according to Italian media, came a week after Italian police said it had dismantled a ‘Ndrangheta mafia ring dominating a large area of southern Calabria and seized assets exceeding 250 million euros.

Fifty-six people, many already in prison, were put under criminal investigation for a series of crimes including mafia-related conspiracy, extortion, kidnapping, bribery and possession of weapons, police and prosecutors said.

The arrest of Greco comes just over two weeks after Italian police arrested one of the most notorious bosses of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra mafia, Matteo Messina Denaro, who had been on the run for 30 years.

The 60-year-old was arrested after visiting a health clinic where he was being treated in the Sicilian capital Palermo