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Trying to cut Italian judicial costs PDF Print E-mail
Sep 02, 2013 at 01:19 PM

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They say no, I say yes!
Despite appearances, Italy is trying. On September 13, a two-year process of rationalization of the Italian justice system will get underway with the closing of some 943 judicial offices, almost 48% of those now in existence.
Putting an end to the rampant decentralization that in many cases goes back to the unification of Italy in 187' and which at one point must have seemed like a good idea, does not mean anyone will lose his or her job. But 7,300 civil servants and 2,700 magistrates will be transferred to somewhat larger administrative centers reportedly at a total savings of 80 million euros a year, not counting the savings in water, electricity and gas bills.

But cutting costs is not the only reason to explain the new measures, which were decided on over a year ago but which have been largely ignored. This is partly because Italian reforms otfen remain on paper. But it is mainly because when it comes to the justice system, attention has been almost totally focused on the personal problems of former premier Silvio Berlusconi who was recently convicted of fiscal fraud and should soon start serving a one-year sentence, albeit - because of his age - in domiciliary detention; the press has been writing about little else over the last eight to ten weeks.
The principal idea behind the re-centralization is to improve efficiency in the justice system and increase the specialization of magistrates and tribunals.

This cannot but be a welcome development since at present in Italy there are more than five million civil cases pending. But it does not mean that there will be smooth sailing ahead. A majority of Italy's lawyers (who will have to travel further in many cases) are opposed to the new reform and there is also bipartisan political pressure to slow things down, although the reasons are not clear. In the meantime, however, Italy's Consulta, or Constitutional Court has rejected 98% of the suits filed to block the changes. And Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has spoken out in favor of the new system.
The Minister of Justice, Annmaria Cancellieri, has however signed 42 proroghe or delays that will allow the smaller tribunals to keep their offices open for an additional period, purportedly to facilitate the reorganization and then transfer of archives and the like. When all the offices and courthouses are empties they will be used for some other function such as schools, nursery schools or other public buildings.

Of course, the public will also find some of the changes inconvenient. I am lucky since one of the delays involves the Justice of the Peace office in the small town of Montefiascone, meaning the third and last hearing (scheduled for December) in a suit I am involved in (SEE.my Dreaming of Judge Judy) will still be heard there, 20 minutes from my weekend house, as opposed to the much larger and far more chaotic city of Viterbo, an additional 20 kilometers away. But if it means better organization most people will no doubt find that the additional travel is worth it.

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