Italian Criminal Justice System
This entry gives a general account of the overall criminal system and outline the political and legal structure and the history of the Italian criminal justice system to help account for the unique aspects that may help to bind the many parts of this criminal justice system together, and to show the extent to how this criminal justice system plays in the overall social control of Italy. The section on crime definitions and statistic provides some basis of “output” of the criminal justice bureaucracies of the country.
1. Political system.
There is no federal government nor federal
system of justice. All criminal laws are contained
in the Penal Code and many other statutes. The
Constitution of the Italian Republic (Art.73)
states that all laws have to be published in the
Gazzetta Ufficiale dello Stato, which is the
Official Gazette of the State. These written
mandatory statutes are effective throughout the
nation. The statutes do not conflict with the
The different parts of the criminal justice
system are part of a state system which operates
all over the national territory through Districts
and other minor territorial jurisdictions. These
districts do not correspond to the 20
administrative districts (Regioni) into which the
country is divided. Although each district has
the power to make laws, providing they do not
conflict with the Constitution, only the State has
jurisdiction over substantive and procedural penal
law. The administrative functions of the criminal
justice system fall under the authority of the
Minister of Justice (Ministro di Grazia e
The State government has three branches:
Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary. A system
of checks and balances allows each power to be
separate and independent from the others.
Each branch of the State has specific powers
and responsibilities in the criminal justice
system. For instance, the Legislative branch has
the power to develop laws, including penal law,
directly or through laws enacted under delegate
power. This branch also has influence on the two
branches of Parliament: the Chamber of Deputies
and the Senate of the Italian Republic. Any
member of Parliament, of the Government or of
particular institutions can present a bill to
introduce a new law or modify an existing one to
the Parliament for consideration. Citizens can
take the same initiative by presenting petitions
that are signed by at least 50,000 citizens.
Parliament has the power to debate, pass, or
reject all bills, with or without modifications.
Once passed, the law is promulgated by the
President of the Republic and published in the
Official Gazette. Parliament may delegate
legislative power to the Government for a specific
project, such as the development of a substantive
or procedural Penal Code, while providing the
general principles and direction for the project.
In urgent cases, the government can enact a law by
decree (Decreto Legge), which takes effect
immediately. This type of decree must be made
into a law by the Parliament within 60 days, or it
loses its validity. (Constitution, Art.71,76,77).
The Executive branch has the power to govern
the nation. The Minister of Justice is in charge
of the organization and functioning of the
criminal justice system. Although the Minister
cannot interfere with jurisdictional functions
that pertain to the Judiciary Power, he does have
the power to allocate the budget for the criminal
justice system. He can also initiate disciplinary
action against individual judges, although the
final decision of disciplinary sanctions pertains
to the Superior Council of the Judiciary. The
Minister has the power to issue criminal justice
directives and regulations and has the power to
inspect criminal justice activities, except for
cases which fall under the competence of the
Superior Council of the Judiciary. (Constitution,
The Judiciary branch is separate and
autonomous from the other State branches. The
Bench has the power to administer justice and
enforce the law. (Constitution, Art.104).
2. Legal system.
Criminal procedure can be described as adversarial in nature. No informal justice system
exists. The Italian legal system is based on written laws. Penal Law defines what specific
behavior is criminal and what specific minimum and maximum penalties are provided. The basic principles of no penalty without a law (nulla poena sine lege) and no crime without a law
(nullum crimen sine lege) are stated in the Penal Code (Art.1) and in the Constitution (Art.25).
Other basic constitutional principles follow as well: a) legal responsibility rests solely on
the acting individual; b) rules of penal law are not retroactive; c) no one can be sentenced
without a fair trial (nulla poena sine judicio); d) no one can be considered guilty until a final
sentence has been pronounced; e) penalties cannot consist in treatment contrary to the sense of humanity and must tend to the rehabilitation of the offender; and f) personal freedom is
inviolable and no one shall be deprived of it except under specific provisions of the law.
The Bench (judiciary and prosecutors) is autonomous and independent from the political
Legislative and Executive powers. A self-governed elective Board (Consiglio Superiore della
Magistratura) of which two-thirds are a large majority of judges and prosecutors, is permanently in charge of all decisions concerning the Bench, such as recruitment, assignments, transfers, promotions, and disciplinary actions (judges and prosecutors cannot be removed). (Constitution, Art.104,107). The Constitution also states that judges are subjected only to the authority of the law (Art.101). The Legislative Power has the monopoly on the production of the Penal Law (directly or through laws enacted under delegate power).
The Constitution prescribes the general norms of the penal system. No law can conflict with the Constitution. The Constitutional Court (Corte Costitutionale) is in charge of evaluating the conformity of specific rules of the Penal Law to the Constitution.
3. History of the criminal justice system.
Although the origins of Italian penal
legislation can be traced back to Roman and middle
age canonic law, its general principles derive
from the French Enlightenment. These principles
include clarity of the law, no punishment without
trial, proportionality between crime and
punishment, definitions of crime and punishment
based on a system of written laws and fixed
penalties, and the elimination of secret
accusations. The dissemination of these
principles is commonly ascribed to the influence
of Cesare Beccaria’s Treatise On Crimes and
Punishments. Actually, these principles were part
of the general reformist approach and judicial
enlightenment expounded by various thinkers even
before Beccaria had published his Treatise. For
example, in his “Spirit of Laws” (1764),
Montesquieu had already written in favor of
clarity of the law, not to mention Voltaire’s
ardent opposition to secret accusations. (Newman
and Marongiu, 1990: 333).(Dei Delitti e delle
Pene, Livorno, 1764).
The new principles of the French Revolution
are affirmed in the 1791 and 1795 French Penal
Codes and eventually in the Napoleon Code of 1810.
All subsequent Italian Penal Codes bear the mark
of French influence. (For instance, the Penal
Code of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies of 1819
(Codice Penale Regno delle due Sicilie), the code
of the Duchy of Parma of 1820 (Codice del Ducato
di Parma), the regulations concerning crimes and
punishment in the Papal States of 1832,
(Regolamento dei delitti e delle pane per gli
Stati della Chiesa), the Codice Penale Sardo
(Albertino), Sardininian or Albertine because it
was promulgated by the King Carlo Alberto di
Savoia (Penal Code, 1839), the Codice Penale
Toscano (Penal Code of Tuscany 1853 and the 1859
Codice Penale Sardo, which replaced the 1839
Sardinian Penal Code. After the unification of
Italy (1861), the 1859 Sardinian Penal Code (with
minor modifications) came gradually into force in
the entire Italian territory, with the exclusion
of the former Grand Duchy of Tuscany.) In 1889, a
general Penal Code for the new Kingdom of Italy
was promulgated by the Ministry of Justice,
Zanardelli. (Antolisei, 1985).
In 1919, a commission chaired by Enrico Ferri
was appointed in order to forward a proposal of
revision of the Zanardelli Penal Code. This
revision project, named the Project of Penal Code
or the Ferri Project (Progetto di Codice Penale or
Progetto Ferri) was completed in 1921, but it was
rejected because it was considered too radical due
to its acceptance of Positive and Social Defense
School principles. (Antolisei, 1985).
In 1925, another commission, chaired by the
jurist Arturo Rocco, Professor of Penal Law and
Procedure, put forward a new project which
resulted in the Italian Penal Code, known as the
Rocco Code. (Penal Code, The Official Gazette
(supplement) n. 253, October 28, 1930. Effective
on July 1, 1931. (Gazzetta Ufficiale (supplemento)
n. 253 del 28 ottobre 1930, entrato in vigore il
primo luglio 1931.) This Code, linked with the
Code of Penal Procedure (Code of Penal Procedure,
The Official Gazette (supplement) n. 254, October
29, 1930. Effective on July 1st, 1931. (Codice di
Procedura Penale, Gazzetta Ufficiale (supplement)
n. 254 del 29 ottobre 1930, entrato in vigore il
primo luglio 1931).) which became effective at the
same time, has subsequently been modified in order
to conform to the principles of the Republican
Constitution (Constitution of the Italian
Republic, The Official Gazette, n. 289 Dec. 27,
1947. Effective on January 1st, 1948 (Costituzione
della Repubblica Italiana, Gazzetta Ufficiale n.
289, del 27 Dicembre 1947. Entrata in vigore il
primo Gennaio 1948.), but is essentially unchanged
in its basic structure and is still in force in
Italy. The linked Code of Penal Procedure was in
force until 1988. (Antolisei, 1985).
Significant criminal justice legislation.
The most significant legislation that has
affected the criminal justice system was the 1988
promulgation of a new Code of Penal Procedure.
(President’s of the Republic Decree, September 22,
1988 n.447, in ordinary supplement no.1 to the
Official Gazette of the State, general series no.
250, october 24, 1988. (D.P.R. (Decreto del
Presidente della Repubblica) 22 settembre 1988
n.447 in supplemento ordinario n.1 alla Gazzetta
Ufficiale dello Stato, serie generale, n. 250, 24
ottobre 1988). The new Code represented a
substantial shifting from the old inquisitorial
system to a modern adversarial system.
The most important innovation of this new
legislation concerns the admission of evidence
that, as a rule, can be obtained only during the
course of an oral and public trial, in front of
the judge (acting as a third party) on the basis
of witnesses’ cross- examination and other kinds
of proof legally presented in the Court. The
trial is conducted by the prosecution and defense
on a parity basis.
The former inquisitorial procedure had
allowed the admission of evidence obtained both in
the course of the trial and in the preliminary
investigation (istruttoria) stage. The
preliminary investigation was typically
characterized by secrecy concerning documentation
of the pre-trial investigation. An investigating
judge (giudice istruttore) was in charge of
collecting criminal evidence as well as conducting
direct examinations of the witnesses. During the
trial, the examination of witnesses was conducted
by the Chief Judge.
Although the new Italian Code of Penal
Procedure is similar to the adversarial English
and American systems, its system of written laws
still retains important differences when compared
with the Anglo-American system, such as the
obligatoriness of penal action. (obbligatoriet…
The obligatoriness of penal action is
sanctioned by the Constitution (Art.112).
According to this provision, the Public Prosecutor
(Pubblico Ministero), when becoming acquainted
with the commission of a crime (notizia
criminis), is legally bound to start the
investigation and, if there is enough
circumstantial evidence, to take penal action
against the alleged culprit of that particular
crime. The Italian Prosecutor is therefore
without discretionary power to withhold
prosecution. Prosecution is not simply a right,
but a duty of the Italian Public Prosecutor. (Code
of Penal Procedure, Art.358,405).
However, certain crimes can only be
prosecuted under specific conditions; penal action
cannot be taken unless a specific requirement is
met. Crimes prosecutable by initiative of the
offended person (reati perseguibili a querela
dell’offeso), can range from forcible rape to
personal minor injury and can be prosecuted only
if the offended person requests the Public
Prosecutor to proceed against someone for the
alleged commission of a crime. Excluding rape and
similar sex offenses, this request can be
withdrawn, which essentially eliminates the crime.
(Penal Code, Art.120,152; Code of Penal Procedure,
For crimes allegedly committed by members of
the two branches of Parliament (Camera dei
Deputati and Senato della Repubblica), a special
authorization of the Parliament is required in
order both to carry out certain types of
investigation procedures (search and seizure, wire
tapping) and to arrest or otherwise limit their
personal freedom. That is, another condition of
prosecutability (procedibilita) can be the
authorization to proceed (autorizzazione a
procedere). (Constitution, Art.68; Code of Penal
Procedure, Art. 343,344).
Up until October 1993, a similar
authorization was required to bring members of the
Parliament to trial. This provision was revoked
and under a modification of Article 68 of the
Constitution, the judiciary is now free to
prosecute the members, although they cannot be
arrested or imprisoned until a final sentence of
guilt has been pronounced.
EXTRADITION AND TREATIES
The law permits extradition of both suspected
and convicted criminals to and from other
countries. Extradition treaties exist between
Italy and the following countries: Argentina,
Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belgium, Bolivia,
Brazil (imminent), Canada, Czechoslovakia, Cipro,
Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France,
Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel,
Kenya, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liechtenstein,
Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco,
Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay,
Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, San
Salvador, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, South
Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey,
Uruguay, United Kingdom, United States, the
Vatican City, Venezuela, and Yugoslavia (Croatia
and Slovenia). (Pisani and Mosconi, 1993).
In 1991, there were 172 extraditions made to
Italy from other countries and 89 extraditions
made from Italy to other countries. (Extraditions
made to Italy from other countries and from Italy
to other countries for earlier years were,
respectively, 106 and 39 (1990); 90 and 45 (1989);
113 and 38 (1988); and 124 and 48 (1987).)
(National Institute of Statistics, 1991).
*Exchange and transfer of prisoners. Prisoners
cannot be exchanged but they can be transferred in
order to serve their sentence in other countries
or transferred from other countries to serve their
sentence in Italy. Transfer of prisoners is
permitted according to the provision stated in the
treaties. The transfer of prisoners is permitted
among the following countries: Austria, Bahamas,
Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cipro, Czech Republic,
Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece,
Hungary, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg,
Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San
Marino, Slovakia Republic, Spain, Sweden,
Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, and
the United States. (Pisani and Mosconi, 1993).
*Specified conditions. There are some legal
limitations to extradition. For example,
extradition can be permitted only if expressly
provided by international conventions. It is not
permitted for political crimes or if there is
reason to believe that the suspect or convict will
be sujected to persecution or discrimination
because of his or her race, religion, sex,
nationality, language, political opinions,
personal or social conditions, or that he or she
will be subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading
penalties (including death penalty), and/or
treatment, or that his or her basic human rights
will be violated unless otherwise arranged in the
international conventions. Extradition procedures
are provided by the Code of Penal Procedure.
(Constitution, Art.10,26; Code of Penal Procedure,
Note: this work was completed in 1993
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