Foreign investors held back by the slowness of the Italian legal system
With its crowded courts and endless appeals, Italy’s judicial system is known as one of the slowest and least efficient in Europe. But, can Prime Minister Mario Draghi achieve what has escaped his predecessors over the past two decades by speeding up trials to make the system more efficient?
Since Draghi took office, modernizing the justice system has been a key part of his government’s ambitious multi-year national reform program, backed by more than € 200 billion in EU grants and loans.
For years, the system has been accused of hampering investment and growth in an economy that has barely increased its GDP in real terms since the turn of the century.
For example, Italian courts are still far behind their peers in Europe in terms of resolution times for commercial and civil disputes.
According to the European Commission, an Italian civil case takes on average more than 500 days to resolve at first instance, compared to an average of around 200 days in Germany, 300 in Spain and 450 in Greece.
In Italy, cases often go through a lengthy appeal process and have an uncertain duration and outcome.
“The judicial system must regain credibility, make the service of justice more effective and efficient, and provide more precision and answers to the country’s demands,” Marta Cartabia, Italian Minister of Justice, said earlier this month. to Made in Italy – a digital summit on the future of the country.
Cartabia, a former president of the Italian Constitutional Court, was appointed by Draghi in February as part of Italy’s commitments to Brussels to receive grants and loans for its recovery spending.
Interventions will be made on “staff, offices and digitization for a common goal: to strengthen the efficiency of the machine,” said Cartabia.
She also stressed that Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) would be well served by the goal of reducing by a quarter the time it takes for criminal cases to be heard over the next five years, and reduce civil case processing times by 40%. .
This represents an opportunity for “a big change, for a common goal of seizing inefficiencies and reducing downtime in processes,” she said.
At the end of September, the Italian Senate gave the green light to the reform of the criminal trial, which is part of a larger package of reforms to the country’s judicial system that are expected to be approved in the coming months.
This recently approved reform introduces a two-year ceiling for appeal trials and a one-year ceiling for proceedings before the Italian Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court of appeal.
If these deadlines are not respected, the procedure is automatically canceled, unless the judge decides to extend it for specific offenses such as mafia association, terrorism, sexual violence and criminal association. drug trafficking purposes.
“The very long duration of trials is a very serious problem for the country’s system, closely followed by the uncertainty of court decisions,” explains Francesco Di Ciommo, professor of law at LUISS University in Rome.
“This has so far represented great uncertainty both for citizens and, above all, for companies, which need certain deadlines to organize production, investments and obtain the best possible economic result”, he says. .
“Through this reform, the government is sending a very clear message: the system, as it is, is not sustainable in the long term. There is a strong will to improve.
Cartabia has repeatedly stressed that an easy way to speed up Italian courts would be to recruit more judges – a process the Draghi government has already started. Another step would be to introduce the Italian equivalent of legal clerks in courts across the country. They would be responsible for assisting judges during cases.
Remarkably, many judges in Italy work alone, which means they have to read all the documents relating to a case without assistance.
According to Cartabia, the introduction of court clerks would help reduce the workload of individual judges and give valuable experience to a new generation of lawyers and judges who would witness the justice system up close from a young age.
The reform is long overdue, but its success is seen as crucial for Italy’s economic future.
“This is one of the most important reforms to unlock the country’s economy,” said Andrea Giuricin, professor of economics at the University of Milano Bicocca.
“For all international investors, lifting the uncertainty would be a dream. The long trials in Italy have always been a huge question mark for them, ”he says.
“If the reform were to prove effective, it would certainly have an immediate impact on foreign direct investment, which has always been discouraged by the country’s Byzantine bureaucracy. Now might be the right time to turn things around.