Findings of the 2nd Report on the Criminal Trial in Italy. Eurispes-Union of Criminal Chambers
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The endless trial
2nd Report on the Criminal Trial
The 2nd Report on the Criminal Trial in Italy was presented this morning in Rome
After more than a decade, Eurispes and the Chambers of Criminal Law review the current situation with a new Survey on the Criminal Trial in Italy. The first survey, carried out in 2008, aimed to verify what actually happens in Italian courts according to the strict criteria of statistical science.
The survey was repeated with the same ambitious objective: to monitor trials by analysing a national statistical sample and comparing the results with those previously obtained. The questionnaires for the survey were expanded and updated to reflect legislative changes introduced after 2008.
The President of Eurispes, Gian Maria Fara, states: “The reasonable length of the trial as a right of the accused, but also the victims, represents a constitutional principle, unfortunately constantly violated in our Country. The abnormal length of trials is an obstacle for the competitiveness of the Nation, but also its overall level of civilisation. The problem of justice,” continues President Fara, “is one of the general functionality of an essential service that must be provided to citizens. A system of justice that respects constitutional principles must combine the independence of the judiciary and individual magistrates, the effectiveness of the judicial response to rights requiring protection, and the efficiency of the service intended as a correct relationship between resources and results. These are issues that remain, unfortunately, unresolved. Alongside the historical and unsolved issues, other new and more complex ones have developed, which call into question the balance of the organisation of the State itself. Moreover, justice has become an area of confrontation and conflict between the various political parties and between the powers of the State”.
The President of the Union of Criminal Chambers, Gian Domenico Caiazza, emphasises: “Twelve years after the first UCPI-Eurispes research, the method and merit already affirmed at that time are confirmed. It is not appropriate to address trial issues through slogans or ideological prejudices. Statistical data must speak for themselves. This research provides a clear picture, like no other, of the real reasons for the excessive length of criminal trials in Italy, which do not lie in the rules guaranteeing due process and the right of defence, but in the serious structural deficiencies of the administrative system. Intervening on the rights of accused citizens to reduce trial times is therefore illusory, as well as specious. This research unmasks those who have always wanted to use the pretext of long criminal trial timings to rewrite the rules outside the constitutional framework defined by Article 111 of the Constitution”.
The reform of the judicial system, in the direction of greater efficiency, is one of the key points on which Italy has been called to act by the EU also in the first development and compliance with the Recovery Plan (for the intervention in favour of organisational innovation of justice, 2 billion are expected). The first mentioned objective is to reduce the duration of trials, starting from the innovation of organisational models and focusing on implementing technology and digitalisation.
The survey examined 32 courts equally distributed throughout the national territory and monitored 13,755 trials.
The results are extremely clear. Of the criminal trials monitored at first instance, only one fifth (20.7%) reached a verdict. In 78.7% of cases, the proceedings end with a postponement to another hearing. And the average duration of the postponement is around five months for proceedings in the monocratic court and four months for those before the collegial court.
Compared to 2008, the research shows an increase in the percentage of postponements to another hearing (+9.4%: in 2008, the share was 69.3%). The incidence of judgments decreased from 29.5% to 20.7%. About the proceedings ending in judgment, acquittals represent just under 30%: of these, 3.7% are represented by acquittals under Article 131 bis of the Criminal Code (not punishable due to the particular minor gravity of the fact).
Convictions account for 40.4% of sentences, a much lower percentage than in 2008 (60.6%). In contrast, the proportion relating to the extinction of the offence is much higher: 24.5%, compared with 14.9% in 2008.
The statute of limitations is one of the reasons for the extinction of the offence, accounting for 10% of the cases that have reached judgment and just over 2% of the total number of cases monitored.
The situation has also worsened concerning the timing of postponement to another hearing, which is even longer than in 2008: from 139 in 2008 to 154 days for proceedings in the single-chamber courtroom and from 117 to 129 days for those before the collegiate court.
On the contrary, the duration of proceedings is increasingly shorter: only 14 minutes in the monocratic courtroom (18 in 2008), 39 minutes before the collegiate court (52 in 2008).
Looking at the reasons for the postponement to another hearing, the most frequent is the fact that it was a hearing for the admission of evidence only (16.4%), the continuation of the preliminary investigation (when the preliminary investigation set for that hearing has been duly carried out and completed) (16, 1%), the discussion (10.7%), the absence of the witnesses cited by the prosecutor (8.3%), the omitted or irregular notification to the defendant (6.2%), the request for probation (4.3%), the absence of the presiding judge (3.3%).
In addition to “physiological” reasons, the very high number of postponements is also affected by “pathological” reasons, such as the omitted/irregular notification to the defendant and the absence of the presiding judge, which determines the postponement of all the proceedings set for that hearing.
Compared to the results of 2008, the following reasons emerged less frequently than in the past: the hearing for the admission of evidence only (from 27% to 16.4%), logistical problems (absence of transcribers, staff working hours) (from 6.8% to 0.4%), the absence of the judge (from 12.4% to 3.3%). However, there was an increase in the continuation of the preliminary investigation (not recorded in 2008, now at 16.1%) and in the absence of the witnesses cited by the prosecutor (not recorded in 2008, now at 8.3%) the introduction of the probation.
When focusing on the reasons for the postponement to another hearing from the geographical macro-area of reference of the trial point of view, it can be observed that the hearing for the admission of evidence only represents the most frequent cause in the North, with a peak of 22.6% in the North-East and 14.1% in the North-West. In the Centre, the weight of hearings solely concerning the admission of evidence (18%) is substantially equivalent to that of the continuation of the preliminary investigation (when the preliminary investigation activities set for that hearing have been duly carried out and completed) (18.4%). Particularly In the Islands and the South, the first reason for the postponement is the continuation of the preliminary investigation (23.7% and 19%, respectively). In the South, there is the highest percentage of omitted/irregular notification to the defendant (9.6%) and absence of the witnesses mentioned by the prosecutor (13.9%); in the Centre and the South, there is the highest percentage of the absence of the presiding judge (6% and 5% respectively); in the Islands the highest percentage of the absence of the discussion (14.2%). The North-West is noted for the higher than average frequency of postponements due to the request for probation (8.3%).
Although the average duration of the postponement of the hearing is 152 days at the national level, some interesting differences emerge at the level of geographical macro-area. The North-West stands out for the shortest average duration of postponement (111 days); also, in the Islands, the average duration is lower than the national one (132 days). In the North-East, the values are close to the national average (158 days), while in the South, the values are the highest (186 days), and in the Centre, the duration is above average (171 days).
At the national level, the survey confirms the shortcomings of a large part of criminal proceedings and the prevalence of delays and inefficiencies, which make the machinery of justice even more cumbersome. While the problems appear to be generalised, there are particular delays in the South, especially if compared to the North-West.
The research results show, once again, that the dysfunctions of the criminal trial, and in particular its abnormal duration, are primarily a consequence of the failure of the judicial apparatus and its disorganised management.
In this perspective, the cognitive result of the study leads to counterintuitive truths about the criminal trial. Just to give an example: having ascertained that the sentences of prescription in the first instance of the hearing amount to about 2% of the trials celebrated (or, if you prefer, just over 10% of the sentences issued) and crossed the data with the ministerial one, according to which 65/70% of the total prescriptions accrue before the hearing (the largest share in the preliminary investigation phase), you can understand how little provision is that rule, introduced by art. 1, paragraph 1, letter e), no.1 ) of Law No. 3 of 9 January 2019, in force since 1 January 2020, which freezes the course of the statute of limitations from the date of the issuance of the judgment of the first instance: it will be operational in a minimal number of cases, completely missing the scope of the prescription issue.
The research is available online at the following link after registering on the website
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