A reform that explains 30 years of political history in Italy


Italian policy has made justice the main hobbyhorse of the past 30 years. The debate on the power it entails, the speed of the processes, the severity of the penalties and the control it exercises over the political class and corruption have given rise to the main phenomena that have emerged in recent decades. From La Liga Norte to Silvio Berlusconi, including the 5 Star Movement. Italy has since been divided into two somewhat absurd categories: justicialistas and guarantors. And no one has ever succeeded in getting all parties to agree on how to approach the problem. Mario Draghi’s executive, however, is preparing to initiate a major reform which will touch on crucial issues such as the prescription of offenses, the radical reduction of prison sentences or the excessive power of the Superior Council of the Judiciary (CSM).

Reform has been a periodic requirement of the European Union over the last decade and has now become essential as a condition for the granting of funds for the recovery plan. In Brussels, the hour of justice is particularly worrying. Second-degree appeals take an average of 851 days (the EU average is 155) and arrears, according to 2019 data, were 260,946. For second-degree appeal, according to data from the President of the Supreme Court Italian (third degree), Pietro Curzio, the deadlines are extended to 1,038 days. All this, wanted by the Minister of Justice, Marta Cartabia, should be rationalized with more means and simpler processes. But especially with the key element which explains the policy of the last 30 years: the debate on the prescription.

The reform now provides that the periods during which an accused will be “reprehensible” will be shorter. It is the flag of the so-called guarantors and what politicians like Berlusconi have always asked with interest, who have managed to evade their accusations by delaying trial times. The so-called justicialistas, represented by the M5S, but also by a large group of anti-mafia magistrates, wish that most crimes never reach this prescription and promise to wage war in Parliament to change this point. The battle, however, began much earlier.

On February 17, 1992, magistrate Antonio Di Pietro requested an arrest warrant against Mario Chiesa, an important businessman and member of the Italian Socialist Party. Thus began a vast judicial process against the corruption of the political class which became known as the Mani pulite and which dismantled the entire power system of the old Christian democracy and opened the box of thunder to all political phenomena that would come over. late. The problem is that the judiciary certified its enormous power and independence and became the axis on which all the political battles of the following decades were articulated. Gherardo Colombo was the magistrate who investigated this case. “The reform will be positive if all that it foresees can be carried out. If this is the case, the criminal procedure will be faster and this is a technical aspect which also has political consequences ”, he underlines.

Italy is a country founded on the primacy of justice. Unlike other states like France or Spain, politics has always had to account for this fact. This is the old Cold War inertia of giving little power to parliament, and a lot to parties and public administration. But the weight of justice remains enormous and has also been maintained thanks to the dignity acquired after years of fighting terrorism and the Mafia. A period in which 21 magistrates were assassinated and the credibility of politics collapsed. Indeed, few Presidents of the Council of Ministers have escaped accusations: Prodi, Renzi, Bettino Craxi, Berlusconi or Giulio Andreotti.

Colombo believes that the most important part of the reform, however, has to do with reducing the use of prison as a punitive instrument. “The sanction must be re-education and not revenge. The reform goes in this direction. It significantly reduces the resources of the prison. And if it is truly carried out, the prison will be more residual ”. An idea shared by the former magistrate and professor Luciano Violante. “The most important thing is that the relationship between citizen and state changes. Until now, the state in the criminal process determined how long he should be in prison and separated from society. Here the vision is changed: prison is the last option. And the judge’s activity is intended to reconstruct the relationship between the convicted person and society. This process is the same as that applied to minors and it will now be done in criminal justice for adults, ”he explains.

However, many magistrates believe that the speed with which they will now prescribe certain offenses, particularly financial and corruption offenses, will exhaust criminals. Roberto Scarpinato, historical judge of anti-Mafia trials such as that of Piersanti Mattarella (president of Sicily assassinated by Cosa Nostra in 1980), that of General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa (prefect of Palermo also assassinated by Cosa Nostra in 1982) or that of The so-called Negotiation between the State and the Mafia, insists on the fact that “the problem of the reform of the penal process in Italy is at the center of a political disagreement which lasts 30 years”. “It is such a heated debate that at times it almost sparked a government crisis. And this does not happen in any other country. To understand this, we must remember that in Italy the Public Prosecutor’s Office is independent of political power. And this has allowed the Italian judiciary to initiate proceedings against many supporters of the establishment Italians: senators, heads of secret services, prime ministers… Hence the violent reaction of part of the ruling class against the judiciary and the reforms it has put in place which make criminal prosecution more difficult. They have lengthened it and, at the same time, reduced the limitation period for offenses. And that is why so many crimes in Italy are extinguished, especially those of corruption and economics, ”he criticizes.

The solution? Scarpinato has no doubts. Eliminate all the reforms that have made the criminal procedure cumbersome, speed it up, reserve the accusatory rite for serious crimes. “Look, this is not a technical legal problem, but a political problem.” A problem that explains 30 years of history.

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