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Legal System

Italy - Legal System

The law in Italy (especially the civil law) has been based on the Roman law model as well as the French Napoleonic law. The legal system encompasses a series of courts (tribunali) as well as a body of judges. There are separate Civil Courts, Criminal Courts and Administrative Courts all across the country. The whole structure is integrated with each court being a part of the national network and all judges being civil servants.

Expats from the US, UK and Canada often consider Italy’s legal system quite complicated, expensive and slow. There are thousands of laws, many of which are often ignored even by the locals. Newcomers to the country find it difficult to differentiate between the laws that are strongly reinforced and the ones that aren’t. Many expats are of the opinion that there is one set of laws for the locals and another one for foreigners.

Italy’s judicial power can be broadly categorized into 2 distinct types. The first type of judicial power in this country is known as the Special Judiciary. It considers four areas of law and they are:

The Administrative Jurisdiction, which reviews all kinds of administrative decisions that are taken by the Public Authorities. This law is exercised by the Regional Administrative Courts (Tribunali Amministrativi Regionali).
The State Auditor’s Department (Corte di Conti), which looks after those matters that concern public accountancy.
The Military Jurisdiction, which deals with any military offences that members of the Armed Forces commit. This law is exercised by the Italian Military Court (Tribunali Militari), the Military Appeal Court (Corti Militari di Appello) & the Military Surveillance Court (Tribunali Militari di Sorvegianza).
The Fiscal Jurisdiction, which handles all taxation matters. This law is exercised by the District Fiscal Commission (Commisioni Tributarie Distrettuali) and the Provincial Fiscal Commission (Commissioni Militari di Appello)

The second type of judicial power is the ordinary judiciary, which mainly includes those civil and criminal matters that aren’t under the scope of special judiciary. This is exercised by:

The Justice of Peace (Guidice di pace)
Trial courts
Sentence enforcement courts
Juvenile courts
Courts of appeal
The Court of Cassation, the highest court for appeal

The courts in Italy can be segregated into three tiers:

The first is commonly referred to as the Courts of First Instance. It deals with various types of issues and offences, which include minor cases, juvenile cases and criminal cases. All regions of Italy will have First Instance Courts in various cities and towns.
The second tier or the Courts of Second Instance mainly presides over appeals from the Courts of First Instance and enforces foreign decisions. This is an intermediate appellate court, which divides cases into three sections (sezioni), namely Civil, Criminal and Labor Law. Most towns and cities in Italy have a Second Instance court.
The highest court in Italy is the Corte di Cassazione, which is located in Rome. This is like a “last-resort court”, which hears the appeals from the Second Instance Court on the interpretation of law. the High court divides cases into the same 3 sections, though for difficult cases, it can sit “a sezioni unite”.

The Court Of Assize has the jurisdiction to try serious crimes that carry the maximum penalty, which is 24 years in prison or more. These are generally reserved for the most serious types of crime like terrorism, murder, abetting murder/ suicide and enslavement. This court does not get involved in theft and attempted murder cases.

A regular trial in Italy generally includes a preliminary investigation, a preliminary hearing, the actual trial and addressing appeals. Unfortunately, this means that a case could last for several years and it could be a while before justice is served. On average, a case goes on for about 10 years from indictment to judgment. Because of this, most Italians prefer settling minor cases out of the court, wherever possible.

Unlike the US & the UK, defendants in Italy are not tried by a jury of peers. All cases are presided over by professional judges or a panel of three/ five/ nine judges. The panel in the court of assize is made up of eight judges, of who two are professional and six are lay people (Guidici Popolari). The lay judges are not jurors and can’t be excused from a trial unless there is a valid reason. Moreover, they aren’t sequestered while presiding over a case, because most trials last for too long a period to restrict their activities.

People arrested for any crime in Italy don’t necessarily have the right to see a lawyer before a hearing in front of the judge. They can however give the name of their lawyer in writing. They also have the right to remain silent and may state no more than their name, date of birth and place of birth when questioned. All foreigners, including expats, have the right to contact their consulate and may seek the names of attorneys who speak their language.

The Italian law can hold a person for no more than three days before a hearing. In case the suspect does not have a lawyer appointed, he will be provided one by the court. In case of petty crimes, the court generally grants bail unless the defendant is a threat or may flee the country. For serious offences, the defendants are usually denied bail and could be held for up to three years without a trial.

The numbers for the Italian Bar Association are –

Agrigento, Sicily - +39 0922 20024
Alessandria, Piemonte - +39 0131 254141
Ancona, Marche - +39 071 206813
Aosta, Valle d’Aosta - +39 0165 32292
Bari, Puglia - +39 080 5277324
Belluno, Veneto - +39 0437 948137
Bergamo, Lombaria - +39 035 243132
Bologna, Emilia - +39 051 582209
Bolzano, Trentino - +39 0471 282221
Brescia, Lombardia - +39 030 41503
Brindisi, Puglia - +39 0831 586993
Cagliari, Sardinia - +39 070 308303
Campobasso, Molise - +39 0874 92774
Caserta, Campania - +39 0823 847899
Catania, Sicily - +39 095 447254 / +39 095 448219
Catanzaro, Calabria - +39 0961 746966
Como, Lombardia - +39 031 269335
Florence, Tuscany - +39 055 483406
Frosinone, Lazio - +39 0775 270097
Genova, Liguria - +39 010 566432
Grosseto, /Tuscany - +39 0564 2510
L’Aquila, Abruzzo - +39 0862 61529
Latina, Lazio - +39 0773 693040
Lecce, Puglia - +39 0832 303411
Messina, Sicily - +39 090 717240
Milan, Lombardia - +39 02 551810
Naples, Campania -+ 39 081 282293
Oristano, Sardinia - +39 0783 72220
Padova, Veneto - +39 049 8751373
Palmero, Sicily - +39 091 589746 / +39 091 331401
Parma, Emilia - +39 0521 286996
Perugia, Umbria - +39 0755 724254
Pesaro, Marche - +39 0721 34155
Pescara, Abruzzo - +39 085 690990 / +39 085 693965
Reggio, Calabria - +39 0965 28423
Rome, Lazio - +39 06 6875294
Sassari, Sardinia - +39 079 237713
Treviso, Veneto - +39 0422 418269
Turin, Piemonte - +39 011 546072
Varese, Lombardia - +39 0332 289574
Venice, Veneto - +39 041 5204545
Vibo Valentia, Calabria - +39 0963 41189

A comprehensive list of law firms in Italy, with multi-lingual and English-speaking attorneys can be accessed on http://www.tradecommissioner.gc.ca/eng/document.jsp?did=6763

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