| 12 April 2024, Friday |

Italy’s Draghi under pressure over contested justice reform

Mario Draghi’s coalition government is splintering because to disagreements over a proposed justice reform opposed by the 5-Star Movement, the country’s largest ruling party, and many Italian prosecutors.

Italy has long struggled with a broken, excruciatingly slow legal system, but repeated reform initiatives have failed to appreciably reduce backlogs in many courts.

Justice has been a controversial issue in Italian politics for decades, and the latest conflict is the first major test of Draghi’s multi-party coalition, which assumed office in February.

On July 8, the cabinet adopted draft legislation as part of a series of revisions. Draghi assured the European Union that billions of euros in Recovery Funds will be released, but parliament must still approve it.

The proposed change attempts to eliminate backlogs and speed up judicial proceedings, but many 5-Star members and prosecutors argue that it will prevent thousands of trials from being completed since they will be dismissed before a verdict is reached.

Draghi has had to postpone other promised improvements of the tax system and competition regulations due to legal issues.

To speed things up, he has said he will put the judicial overhaul to a vote of confidence, a risky way of forcing it through parliament by truncating debate on amendments. The vote is expected early next week.

If a government loses a confidence vote it has to resign. This is all but impossible as even if 5-Star votes against Draghi, he will still have a majority. His coalition would however will be far less solid going forwards.

“I don’t even want to consider the possibility the reform will not be changed,” 5-Star’s leader and former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters after meeting Draghi on Tuesday. He declined to say what 5-Star would do in the confidence vote.

The most contentious part of the reform makes yet another revision to the statute of limitations, which automatically scraps trials if a verdict is not reached within a set time from when the crime was committed.

Italy’s justice system has three degrees of judgment, meaning defendants can make two appeals. Far more cases are wiped out by the statute of limitations than in other advanced countries.

5-Star’s justice minister in the previous government removed time limits on prosecutions once an initial verdict is reached, arguing that many offenders, especially white collar criminals, avoid justice by using legal tactics to delay court proceedings.

The new reform by Draghi’s Justice Minister Marta Cartabia, a former Constitutional Court chief, would freeze the statute of limitations at the end of the first trial but set strict time limits for the two appeals.

If the first appeal is not completed in two years and the second in one year, all cases bar those punishable with a life sentence will expire without a verdict unless judges grant special dispensation for the trial to continue.

Nicola Gratteri, one of Italy’s best-known anti-mafia prosecutors, told parliament the reform would mean 50% of trials would be wiped out in the appeals stage, meaning many criminals would go free and “an alarming situation for public safety.”

Cartabia says she can speed up trials thanks to measures to encourage defendants to seek plea-bargain deals and the hiring of thousands of support staff in courtrooms.

  • Reuters