Standardization of judicial practice in Italy

Author:Andrea Salvatore Romito - Clara Tracogna
Position:Magistrate at the Civil and Penal Court in Enna, Italy - PhD in Criminal Procedure at the University of Padova, Assistent Lecturer at the University of Udine and Attorney-at-law in Udine, Italy

The following study is meant to be a comprehensive overview on the Italian Judiciary: particular attention is paid on the Judiciary from both a static point of view (Judiciary as an organized administrative office) and a dynamic point of view (Judiciary as a power in action). Starting from the Constitutional rules on the Judiciary and offering a detailed description of the Courts system (organization of Courts, enrolment and careers of judges, their liability, number of magistrates and law cases), the Authors provide an in depth analysis of the rules and mechanisms aimed at a uniform interpretation in order to avoid the phenomenon of non unity of jurisprudence, which is although well-known in Italy due to several agents, such as an overwhelming amount of laws and law-cases. The study also offers an analysis of recent decisions at the top level Courts in Italy (Corte Costituzionale and Corte di Cassazione) and in Europe (European Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights) pointing out the main issues and the solutions offered by Courts.

Andrea Salvatore Romito*)
Clara Tracogna**)
The following study is meant to be a comprehensive overview on the Italian
Judiciary: particular attention is paid on the Judiciary from both a static point of
view (Judiciary as an organized administrative office) and a dynamic point of
view (Judiciary as a power in action). Starting from the Constitutional rules on
the Judiciary and offering a detailed description of the Courts system
(organization of Courts, enrolment and careers of judges, their liability, number of
magistrates and law cases), the Authors provide an in depth analysis of the rules
and mechanisms aimed at a uniform interpretation in order to avoid the
phenomenon of non unity of jurisprudence, which is although well-known in Italy
due to several agents, such as an overwhelming amount of laws and law-cases.
The study also offers an analysis of recent decisions at the top level Courts in Italy
(Corte Costituzionale and Corte di Cassazione) and in Europe (European Court
of Justice and European Court of Human Rights) pointing out the main issues and
the solutions offered by Courts.
Keywords: public law; Italian Judiciary; non unity of jurisprudence;
nomofilachia; stare decisis; European Courts and Italian jurisprudence
1. The Judiciary in Italy
1.1. Constitutional provisions on Judiciary. Title IV of the Italian
Constitution provides a settle of rules related to the Judiciary. Art. 101 § 2 states
that judges are only subject to law: magistrates as a whole constitute a body which
is autonomous and independent from any other constitutional power (that is,
legislative and executive); their independence is guaranteed by the Supreme
Council of the Judiciary (Consiglio Superiore della Magistrautra, hereinafter
“CSM”), whose president is the President of the Italian Republic and is composed
1/3 by members appointed among members of Parliament and 2/3 by magistrates
*) Judge Andrea Salvatore Romito is Magistrate at the Civil and Penal Court in Enna, Italy
**) Dr. Clara Tracogna is PhD in Criminal Procedure at the University of Padova, Assistent
Lecturer at the University of Udine and Attorney-at-law in Udine, Italy (;
The essay is a result of a study made by both Authors and has to be considered as a shared
outcome. However, §§. 1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 2.2 and 5 had been written by Judge A.S. Romito and §§
1.3, 2.1, 3, 4.1, 4.2 and 6 had been written by Dr. C. Tracogna.
elected by their colleagues1).
CSM is in charge to designate, appoint and transfer, promote and carry
towards disciplinary measures towards members of the Judiciary (art. 105
Constitution). CSM is thus a bulwark of the doctrine of separation of
constitutional powers, since it grants magistrates’ independence.
Moreover, magistrates have the right not to be moved from the place where
their office is based, except when they ask for transfer. Art. 107 § 4 clearly
provides that public prosecutors are compared to judges in that they are granted
the same guarantees of independence.
It should be however noticed that the rules on judiciary are an issue of the
Parliament (art. 101, § 2; art. 102, § 3; 103, § 2; 106, § 2; art. 108 of the
Constitution) and should be ruled by a law approved by the Parliament (art. 70
and following of the Constitution).
This means that the executive power is in any case not allowed to rule by
itself the subject: the Ministry of Justice is only allowed to present draft-bills to
the Parliament and is in charge of the organization and functioning of the
Judiciary from an administrative point of view (art. 110 of the Constitution)2).
During the law-making process, CSM and magistrates could be asked for advice.
The advice given in these cases is not mandatory: however, fair play among
constitutional powers suggests to follow this best practice. Before presenting a
draft-bill to the Parliament, the Ministry of justice asks for opinion to the C.S.M.
In any case, the advice given is not binding.
Moreover, when approving laws on particular subjects, magistrates could be
invited as experts to attend Parliament hearings: in this case, their contribution is
technical and doesn’t affect political issues. Finally, on a direct assignment from
the Ministries, magistrates can be seconded from their office and functions to
Governmental offices (such as Ministries or their branches).
1.2. Magistrates enrolment, training and career. Magistrates are appointed
after a competition (art. 106 of the Constitution) on a national basis: only
candidates with a degree in law proving to hold a further qualification can apply
for the exam. In particular, lawyers who passed the bar-exam, PhDs, those who
attended the School of Specialization for Courts Professions (which is organized
among Universities, lawyers and Judges) and civil servants who are at a certain
level of career are admitted to take the exam, which consists in two parts: a) a
1) In detail, CSM is composed by the President of the Republic, who chairs the CSM; the First
Chief Judge of the Court of Cassation; the Prosecutor General of the Court of Cassation; eight
members appointed by Parliament (laici); sixteen members appointed by judges and prosecutors
2) However, notwithstanding the prohibition, there are some regulations approved by the
Government on topics related to the judiciary: i.e. Decree of the president n. 916/1958
implementing law. 195/1958 on the establishment and functioning of the CSM.
written exam on three main subjects (civil, penal and administrative law); b) an
oral exam on eighteen subjects. Each candidate can take the exam only three times
in its life; however, there’s no age limit to be admitted to the exam.
Those who successfully go through the exam procedure had been called
uditori giudiziari until 2007, when Law no. 111 changed the name of the new
appointed magistrates into magistrati ordinari in tirocinio, a definition that is
closer to the function they have been selected for. They will attend a paid training
period that lasts 24 months (considering also holidays and summer breaks at
Courts) at the Court of Appeal in the district in which they are domiciled. At the
end of the training period both CSM and a special committee at the Court of
Appeal confirm or deny the suitability of the magistrate to be definitively
appointed for judiciary functions: new magistrates then follow a training period in
view of the exact functions they will be finally appointed to. Examinations scores
are ranked and vacant posts are assigned on these scores.
Law no. 111/2007 provides that trainees should attend a Higher School of the
Judiciary (Scuola Superiore della Magistratura) at least for six months, under the
supervision of a mentor whom is a senior magistrate. The Higher School is
expected to be created in four different cities (Benevento, Bergamo, Catanzaro,
Florence). Moreover, magistrates follow refresher training courses all over their
career: a special panel at the CSM is in charge of the professional updating.
Furthermore, each magistrate has the possibility to attend at least one course per
year, in the field of law related to its assignments.
There is no hierarchy among magistrates enrolled at Courts: they only differ
for their functions. However, a magistrates’ ruled career is not inconsistent with
the Constitution. Law no. 570/1966 and Law no. 831/1977 introduced a system
based mostly on the length of service: after a determined period, except for an
opposite opinion expressed by CSM, the magistrate obtained a career move, i.e.
qualification and salary related to the higher post, even when he remained at the
same office. As soon as a post he was entitled to got free, he took charge of the
higher post. This system has been changed by Law no. 150/2005, that introduced
also merits criteria. Merit is checked through a competition among magistrates
that are asked to prove their professional expertise. Moreover, even if the
magistrate deserves a higher qualification, he can mention it only when he
effectively takes charge of the higher post.
1.3. Courts organization. In Italy there are three types of Courts of first
instance and their competence is based on the crime for which the accused person
has been charged. Corte di assise has jurisdiction over the most serious crimes3): it
3) Corte di assise has jurisdiction on crimes punishable with life imprisonment; life
imprisonment with solitary confinement, which is the most severe punishment in Italy, and for
those crimes for which the maximum sentence is at least 24 years, wiht some exceptions. Art. 4 of
the criminal code of procedure states that in order to determine the jurisdiction of the different
is composed by six non professional judges and two magistrates (involving
persons who are not part of the Judiciary is a way to implement art. 101, § 1 of the
Constitution, which states that justice is run on behalf of the Italian people).
On the opposite, Giudice di pace, which is composed by an only judge whom
is not a professional magistrate and is appointed after a procedure in which only
qualifications are checked (such as holding a degree in law, be enrolled at the
Bars, etc.), has jurisdiction on minor offenses that can be solved in a better way
through mediation and negotiation. Indeed, the law specifies that in the on-going
trial the judge must encourage, as much as possible, the reconciliation of the
parties4). If a defendant is convicted in this Court, the judge may not impose a
sentence of imprisonment, but only a fine, or, in more serious cases, a sentence of
house arrest or, upon the defendant’s request, community service.
Tribunale stands in between the abovementioned Courts and has jurisdiction
over criminal matters that are not within the jurisdiction of either the Corte di
assise or the Giudice di pace. However, as part of recent organization, there are
now two forms of tribunal, one is a solo judge Court, the other is a panel of three
magistrates. Tribunali are based both on a general principle that these offences
may be punished to more than a ten-years maximum sentence. Offences that are
not assigned to the three magistrates panel are to be tried in front of a solo judge
Court at the Tribunale.
As for intermediate Courts, it should be mentioned that, in general, parties can
seek for appeal of the decision only when the remedy is provided by law (art. 568
of the Criminal Code of Procedure).
There are two intermediates Courts of appeal for seeking review of the lower
Courts decisions. Corte di appello is a panel of three magistrates who decides on
attacks towards Tribunale decisions. The Court of appeal can confirm or change
the first-instance Court decision; otherwise, it can annul it (art. 604, 605 of the
Criminal Code of Procedure).
Both the defendant and the prosecutor may seek review of Corte di assise
decisions by the Corte di assise di appello, which is a panel composed by two
professional judges and six non professional judges.
Finally, there is the Court is the Corte di cassazione, which is the top court, in
charge of granting and promoting the exact application and uniform interpretation
of laws, the unity of national body of rules and the respect of limits to jurisdiction,
solving competence conflicts. The Supreme Court is divided into five panels for
private law trials (including labour and tax law) and seven panels for penal trials.
In most important cases as well as in case of conflicts on issues of law (i.e., its
interpretation and its correct application) among different sections of the Corte di
Courts it is necessary to consider the punishment set out for the crime, excluding enhancement for
recidivism, and excluding any circumstances that could increase the punishment, unless the penal
code establishes a different punishment for certain circumstances.
4) See art. 2 of the decreto legislativo n. 274/2000.
cassazione itself, the overall sections form a sole panel (so called sezioni unite
civili for private law and sezioni unite penali for penal law) which is in charge to
solve conflicts on the interpretation and application of law provisions.
The Court is involved only in expressed cases (art. 606 of the Criminal Code
of Procedure: i.e., breach in the interpretation of law, lack of reasoning, loss of a
relevant evidence, a misuse of power by the lower judge when the power belongs
to another public body) by those who have been parties in the trial and seek for
review of the decision by appellate Courts. As the appeal to the Corte di
cassazione (ricorso) can be presented only in a limited range of hypothesis,
jurisprudence and lawyers created a legal irregularity case, the so called
abnormità”, which stands for a breach in the system that allows a party to seek
review of the decision by the Supreme Court.
As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court decides only in two cases on merits,
that is: a) in extradition and surrender procedures, because the first-instance Court
in these procedures is the Court of Appeal and the defendant is then given only
two level of jurisdiction; b) when deciding on pre-trial measures proceedings.
However, there is a general rule that allows an attack to first instance
decisions to be held directly by the Supreme Court: it’s a kind of “leap frog
procedure”, which is also known as ricorso per saltum, provided by art. 569 of the
Criminal Code of Procedure. Moreover, even when there are no other means to
seek review (i.e. appeal), art. 111, § 7 of the Constitution allows a direct remedy
towards lower Courts decisions that decide upon defendant’s freedom (including
pre-trial measures, decisions passed at the end of the trial, decisions passed in the
enforcement procedure): anyway, the Supreme Court cannot decide on merits, but
only on points of law: this Court is not allowed to review evidences and it can
only check if both substantive and procedural law has been applied in the proper
The Supreme Court can decide to confirm, annul (with or without sending the
case back to the lower Court whose decision has been annulled), or reform the
Unlike common law countries, Supreme Court decisions have effect only in
the trial they are related to. However, they are usually respected by lower Courts,
especially when it comes to consider sezioni unite decisions: this is the way
through which its role to ensure the exact observance and uniform interpretation
of the law (known as nomofilachia) is expressed.
Among other tasks, the Supreme Court rules on conflicts of jurisdiction in
terms of both territory and subject-matter. The Supreme Court is in fact the judge
of legitimacy: its sole function is to take care that lower Courts apply correctly
and in a uniform way the law.
To complete the framework, it has to be mentioned that the issue of
constitutionality belongs only to the Corte costituzionale, that is a separate body
with fifteen judges (5 elected by the Parliament, 5 by the President of the
Republic and 5 among judges at the higher posts of the Judiciary) independent of
the professional judiciary, and is charge with judicial review of legislation. This
can be either direct or indirect: however, judges may ask for the Constitutional
Court pronunciation only when they are going to decide a case with the law that is
suspected to breach the Constitution: in these cases, the Court could be asked for a
preliminary ruling by a judge (both at lower Courts and at the Supreme Court
level) who has to apply a law in the on-going trial. If the law that should be
applied in the case (rilevanza) is likely to breach the Constitution (non manifesta
infondatezza), then the judge must engage the Constitutional Court. It in turn, the
Constitutional Court must check the constitutionality of the law and eventually
declare its annulment.
Eventually, art. 25 of the Italian Constitution should be mentioned, as it
forbids the creation of special judges, which means ad hoc panels that have
jurisdiction on a fact after the fact itself happens: however, there are special
judges who already existed when the Constitution entered in force and that are in
charge to deal with special subjects5).
From another perspective, specialization within Courts and Tribunals depends
on district dimensions upon which they have jurisdiction. The territorial
distribution of Courts in Italy dates from XIXth Century and has never been
substantially changed. There are several branches of the Court that are detached in
towns and cities with less than 20.000 residents. On the other hand, in main cities
(i.e. Milan, Rome, Naples) there are specialized branches within the Court,
reflecting also the particular social background of the place where they are based:
that is, there are sections for private law, labour law and penal law that are
themselves specialized in different branches of law that require special expertise6).
5) As for the special Courts, should be mentiond: Administrative jurisdiction, exercised by the
Tribunali Amministrativi Regionali – TAR (Regional Administrative Courts), whose decisions may
be appealed before the Consiglio di Stato (Council of State); Auditing jurisdiction, exercised by
the Corte dei Conti (State Auditors' Department) for matters concerning public accounts; Military
jurisdiction, exercised by the Tribunali Militari (Military Courts), by the Corti Militari di Appello
(Military Appeal Courts) and by the Tribunali Militari di Sorveglianza (Military Surveillance
Courts), for military offences committed by members of the Armed Forces; Fiscal jurisdiction
exercised by the Commissioni Tributarie Provinciali (Provincial Fiscal Commissions) and by the
Commissioni Tributarie Distrettuali (District Fiscal Commissions), for matters concerning taxes.
Moreover, Tribunale Regionale delle Acque Pubbliche (Regional Court of Waters) and the
Tribunale Superiore delle Acque Pubbliche (High Court of Waters), competent for controversies
on waters that belong to the State.
6) The civil section of Rome Tribunal has sections divided among: family and liability section
(n. 1), public administration affairs (n. 2); company law (n. 3); eforcement (n. 4); real estate rights
(n. 5, 6, 7); market law (n. 8, 9, 10, 11); liability law (n. 12, 13); insolvency law; agrarian law;
deontological bodies decisions. The penal section is formed by: ten subsections and six Corti di
assise; the office of the judge competent to decide on issues arising during public prosecutors
investigations; Court competent on crimes committed by Ministries when exercising their powers
and functions.
1.4. Disciplinary, civil and criminal liability of the members of the
Judiciary. A magistrate who fails in his duties or whose conduct, inside or
outside the office, is such as to make him unworthy of the trust and esteem in
which he must be held, or who jeopardises the prestige of the judiciary, will be
punished (art. 18 of Decree no. 511/1946). The general nature of the relevant rule
gives broad powers to the disciplinary judge: as there are no strict definitions of
the facts consisting in breaches of discipline, magistrates’ conduct must in fact be
assessed by the disciplinary judge by referring to general models or clauses,
which are reflected, according to the wordings of art. 18, in the trust and esteem
that citizens hold to a magistrate and in the prestige of the judiciary as a whole.
As for disciplinary sanctions, these consist in: a) a warning indicating the
breach of conduct and inviting the magistrate to comply with his duties; b) a
reprimand, which consists of a formal reproach for the breach committed by the
magistrate; c) loss of seniority, that is postponing, by no less than two months and
no more than two years, admission to a higher post; d) dismissal from the office,
which consists of the definitive exclusion from the judiciary in cases where, as a
result of his conduct, the accused magistrate is objectively unable to perform
judicial functions in any office and at any level; e) loss of office, which is the
same as a dismissal except for the fact that it is linked to a criminal conviction.
This is not an automatic consequence of a criminal conviction, but depends on the
seriousness of the offence. Enforced transfer can be added to the sentence, when it
is more serious than a warning.
Disciplinary proceedings are instituted at the initiative of the Minister of
Justice in the form of a request to the Prosecutor General of the Court of
Cassation. This way, the Minister exercises the “power” assigned by art. 107 of
the Constitution.
A disciplinary action may, however, also be commenced by the Prosecutor
General of the Court of Cassation in his capacity as public prosecutor attached to
the disciplinary division. In any event, it is the Prosecutor General who pursues
the action, whether by requesting the disciplinary Division of the C.S.M. to start
an investigation or by advising the Division that he is commencing summary
proceedings. The investigation may therefore be conducted either by the
Prosecutor General of the Court of Cassation in the case of summary proceedings
or by a member of the Disciplinary Division in the case of ordinary proceedings.
In the pre-disciplinary phase, the Minister may delegate the General Inspectorate
to gather information.
Disciplinary proceedings are judicial in nature and are regulated, until the
disciplinary Court’s ruling, by the 1930 rules of criminal procedure integrated by
the specific disciplinary proceedings rules. In order to safeguard the person
concerned, disciplinary proceedings must be commenced no later than one year
after the day in which the entities in charge of instituting the disciplinary
proceedings have been informed of the fact on which the charge is based.
The disciplinary Court consists of a panel of judges known as the Disciplinary
Division, which is made up of six members: the Vice President, who is a member
by right and chairs the Court, and five members elected by the CSM among its
members, one of whom doesn’t belong to the Judiciary, one is a magistrate with
the rank and functions of a Court of Cassation magistrate, two are judges and one
is a prosecutor. In his capacity as President of the CSM, the Head of State may
avail himself of the right to chair the Disciplinary Division and, in that case, the
Vice President is excluded from the panel.
The magistrate charged of a disciplinary breach has the right to defend
himself and by a colleague in the disciplinary proceedings. During the
investigations or the trial, the Disciplinary Division may suspend the magistrate
from his functions and freeze his salary at the request of the Minister of Justice or
the Prosecutor General. Suspension is mandatory in cases where the magistrate
has been arrested. The sentenced magistrate, the Minister and the Prosecutor
General can seek review by the Civil Divisions of the Court of Cassation.
Secondly, civil liability is the liability that a magistrate undertakes towards
the parties or other entities involved in the trial he is in charge to decide, and
which results from any mistake or non-compliance affected in the exercise of his
functions. The civil liability of judges and prosecutors, which is similar to that of
any other public servant, is based on article 28 of the Constitution and is now
provided by Law no. 117/1988. This law affirms the principle of the right to
compensation for any unfair damage resulting from the conduct, decision or
judicial order issued by a magistrate either with “intention” or “serious
negligence” while exercising his functions, or resulting from a “denial of justice”.
The law nevertheless clarifies that the activities of interpreting the law and
assessing the facts and evidence cannot be considered as a breach that leads to
such liability. In this respect, in any such cases, it is the procedure itself which
safeguards the parties, i.e. by resorting to the system of appeals against the order
assumed to be defective. Without prejudice to the fact that in relation to the merits
the judicial activity is an issue of the magistrate, something can nevertheless be
done in respect of a magistrate’s disciplinary liability in cases where – according
to the CSM Disciplinary Division’s case law – an exceptional or evident breach of
law has been committed, or the judicial function has been exercised in a distorted
It should be stressed that the liability for compensating damage is on the
State, to whom an injured party may start a legal action. If the State’s liability is
established, then the State may in turn claim compensation from the magistrate.
A liability action and relevant proceedings must comply with specific rules.
The most important of these rules provides that the liability proceedings are
subject to: the lodging of all ordinary means of appeal, including any other
remedy for amending or revoking the measure that is assumed to have been the
cause of unfair damage; the existence of a deadline for exercising such action; a
decision on the action’s admissibility, for the purposes of checking the relevant
prerequisites; observance of the terms; an assessment of the evidence to see
whether the charges are grounded; and the judge’s power to intervene in the
proceedings against the State.
In order to guarantee the fairness of the proceedings, the system provides for
the jurisdiction over such proceedings to be transferred to a different judicial
office, in order to ensure that the proceedings are not assigned to a judge of the
same office as the office of the magistrate whose activity is assumed to have given
rise to the unfair damage.
Thirdly, in their qualification as public officials, magistrates can be charged
for crimes committed in the exercise of their functions (i.e. abuse of office,
corruption, corruption connected with judicial duties, extortion, failure to perform
official duties etc.). Parallel to this, they may act, in conjunction with the State, in
their capacity as victims of a crime committed by private individuals against the
public administration (a typical example is that of contempt of Court and, in
particular, contempt of Court directed against the judge). In this respect, Law no.
420/1998 provides new rules on jurisdiction upon such proceeding: in addition to
transparency, the aim of this reform was to ensure a judge’s maximum autonomy
of decision when called on to try cases in which other colleagues are involved for
whatever reason. Significant changes were made to the rules of criminal
procedure (art. 11 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and 1 of the implementing
rules of the Code of Criminal Procedure), by creating a mechanism for
establishing the competent judge to avert the risk of “crossed” jurisdictions
(which happens when the Court A is competent on the crimes committed by a
judge who is in the Court B and vice versa)7).
1.5. Italian Judiciary in numbers. In Italy there are 846 Giudice di pace
offices; 387 Tribunals; 29 Courts of Appeal; 166 Public Prosecutor offices. The
Judiciary counts 8.359 magistrates, among whom 2.105 are public prosecutors
and 6.254 are judges.
Referring to the 2010 CEPEJ Report8), which is based on data collected until
2008, facing a trial in Italy is a beyond compare experience: civil judges have to
deal with an amount of 2.842.668 new trials per year while penal judges take care
of 1.280.282 new trials per year. Compared to the forty-six Council of Europe
Member States, Italy is the Member State with more trials pending at civil Courts
(3.932.259) and first instance penal Courts (1.205.576).
7) See, in detail, The Italian Judicial System, CSM report on Judiciary independence, available
8) The CEPEJ (Commission européenne pour l’efficacité de la Justice) 2010 “Evaluation
Report of the European Judicial System – Efficiency and quality of Justice”, can be found at See also Gioacchino Natoli, “La verità sui magistrati italiani n. 2”, available at
Public prosecutors offices ranked at the third position both for the amount of
new cases per year (3.270.906), after France and Spain, and for the amount of
cases per year that are brought to Courts at the end of preliminary investigations
(624.266), after England and Wales and France.
As for the budgetary issues, among Council of Europe members, Italy spends
more than any other Country for the whole functioning of the Judiciary. However,
considering the percentage related to the number of residents, results should be
reconsidered: in 2008, Italy invested euros in the judiciary,
decreasing the total amount of 6,9 % compared to 2006 data. This is in offbeat
with other Countries (i.e. Spain, where there was a growth of 26,8%). The main
part of the budget for Tribunals (3.008.735.392 euros) is spent for salaries
(2.390.027.432 euros), while the remaining part goes to IT tools (73.987.488); to
general judicial expenses (287.571.836); to buildings and structures maintenance
costs (253.913.969); to refresher training courses.
The average expense is 50,5 %, while the average expense in the other
Countries is 37%. However, Italy is ranked, for instance, after Slovenia, Swiss
and The Netherlands.
Referred to 2006 results, the government decreased to 17,3% the expenses for
Public Prosecutors Offices, increased those for the Tribunals up to 8,1% and to
17,6% that for the legal aid.
The economic crises affecting Europe turned into a reduction of the salaries of
15% for all civil servants working in the judiciary in 2009, and of 27% for
magistrates in 2010.
2. Jurisprudence and stare decisis principle
2.1 Diritto vivente, nomofilachia, precedente and unity of jurisprudence.
It’s a common opinion among Scholars and practitioners that jurisprudence is not
part of the sources of law in the Italian system. Art. 1 of the Preliminary
dispositions to the civil code (so called Preleggi) provides a list of the sources of
law, mentioning statutory law, regulations and custom but not jurisprudence.
Italian judges are obliged to apply and respect laws (art. 101, § 2 of the
Constitution) according to the given rules on interpretation (art. 12 Preleggi)
among which it’s not possible to find a rule allowing judges to mention Court
decisions in order to clarify the meaning of a new rule and to fill gaps among the
sources of law.
The rationale of such an outcome is the need to balance multiple
interpretations and creative dimension of jurisprudence, from one hand, and
uniformity and predictability of judicial decisions, on the other hand, in light of
the equality principle, the certainty of law principle and the judge independence in
the interpretation of laws.
However, it is commonly accepted that jurisprudence has a fundamental role
in a judge’s deciding proceeding and thus in lawyers arguments. Moreover, a
constructive function (so called nomopoietica) should be acknowledged to all
bodies that are given authority, so that also Court decisions ought to be considered
among sources of law. In any case, even if considered as a source of law,
jurisprudence has its own peculiarities, such as flexibility and relativity.
Jurisprudence is also known in Italy as diritto vivente (law in action), which,
in light of the Italian Constitutional Courts decisions, stands for a solid tendency
that is rooted and won’t change except for a decision coming from the Court itself
or for a new law approved by the Parliament.
The Supreme Court in fact stresses the difference between rules and
wordings: wording is a part of a document which is still to be interpreted by
judges; while the rule is the outcome of interpretation. Thus, the sources of law
theory should be renovated in light of the fundamental role of jurisprudence and
the function of the Supreme Court known as nomofilachia, which stands for
uniform interpretation of rules.
The ground for this function has to be found in articles 65 and 68 of the Royal
Decree organizing the Judiciary (no. 12/1941). Art. 65 provides as follows: Corte
di cassazione, as the Supreme Court upon Courts, provides the correct and
uniform interpretation of laws, the unity of the national laws and the limits of
jurisdiction among different judges, solving conflicts of competence and
jurisdiction and any other task assigned by law. Art. 68 states that within the
Supreme Court there is a special branch (Ufficio del massimario), established in
1941, which has the task to promote the Supreme Court nomofilachia function at
first creating a uniform interpretation (through studies and papers prepared before
hearings) and, after that, taking care of law reporting activities. This way, Ufficio
del massimario gives a cultural aid to magistrates’ activities and realizes the
legitimacy function of the Corte di cassazione.
Moreover, the statutory decree n. 40/2006 modifying the civil procedure code,
introduced also some rules stressing the Supreme Court nomofilachia function.
A confirm also comes from:
– art. 363 of the Code of Civil Procedure, which allows a decision of the
Supreme Court in the interest of the law, even when parties withdrawn the
proceedings or the appeal is out of time limits, after a special request by the
General Attorney at the Supreme Court. In this case the Court gives a decision
stating the exact interpretation and the principle that the lower Courts would have
respect in the case. The same rule is applied when the appeal is not admissible
(because it doesn’t match the specific hypothesis for which it is allowed) but the
Supreme Court itself considers relevant the issue and offers its interpretation in
order to assure unity on the interpretation of a rule.
– art. 77 of the Royal Decree no. 12/1941, that allows the public prosecutor to
appeal for annulment, revocation or review of the lower Courts decisions to the
Supreme Court in the interest of law. This provision should also be read in light of
art. 112 of the Constitution, that provides the mandatory prosecution principle,
which is itself an expression of the principle of legality.
– art. 374 of the Civil Code of Procedure and art. 618 of the Criminal Code of
Procedure stating that, in case of conflicts among Courts on the interpretation of a
rule, the decision should be given by the Supreme Court’s main panel (sezioni
– art. 393 of the Civil Procedure Code, which states that if the proceedings is
withdrawn and a new action is proposed, then the Supreme Court decision given
in the previous trial should be applied in the renovated trial.
– art. 118 of the implementing dispositions of the Code Of Civil Procedure,
that forbids to judges to mentions Scholars and Lawyers studies and books in the
reasoning of their decision: this rule is applied, by means of a broad interpretation,
also in criminal proceedings, due the lack of a similar specific rule in the criminal
code of procedure9).
– art. 64 of the statutory Decree no. 165/2001 (civil servants labour law) and
art. 420 bis of the Code of Civil Procedure (labour law trials), that provided a
peculiar preliminary ruling aimed at interpreting the rules and the effectiveness
and validity of national collective agreements. Art. 420 bis of the Civil Code of
Procedure states that, pending a labour law trial, the judge is allowed to decide on
the interpretation, validity and efficacy of the agreement. The party towards whom
the interpretation given is adverse can then seek review by the Supreme Court on
the same issues within 60 days after the decision: in this case, the on-going trial
can be suspended until the Supreme Court has passed its decision. Art. 64 of the
statutory Decree provides for a procedure in which the judge first involves trade
unions representatives in order to give its interpretation on civil servants
collective agreements: if it’s not possible to share a common outcome, the judge
offers its interpretation towards it’s possible to seek review by the Supreme Court
within 60 days.
– art. 388 of the Civil Code of Procedure, which provides that the whole copy
of the Supreme Court decision (and not only a summary of it) is sent (also by
means of email or fax) to the lower Court: this is meant to realize in fact the
Supreme Court nomofilachia function, through a circulation of decisions assuring
9) Apparently, this rule seems to create a barrier between Scholars and judges: however, the
connections between jurisprudence and doctrine have become closer in time. In Italy there are
several Law reviews as well as law websites reporting and commenting Courts’ decisions. Of
course these reviews are also read by judges for their professional refreshment: this brings a
virtuous circulation of points of views and reasoning on different issues. It should be also
mentioned that doctrine and jurisprudence sometimes have a close collaboration in that there
persons from the Academy are appointed as members of some special Courts (i.e. Constitutional
Court, Administrative Courts) or in some institutional bodies (Scholars are appointed as members
of the CSM and have an important role in the refreshing committees). As for the relation with the
law-making process, Scholars from the Academy had an important role in the introduction of the
criminal code of procedure, in that Professors and researches have been appointed in the
commissions in charge to draft the code of criminal procedure that is now in force.
the persuasive effect of the Supreme Court decision.
In this framework, stare decisis principle, even if it’s not a general principle
in the Italian system, has developed in a particular way. Stare decisis is referred in
Italy to the so called precedente, which stands for a former decision, considered as
an advice to solve the present and similar case, or at least to give suggestion for a
Precedente is not legally binding, however, when it comes to consider its
effect, several aspects should be mentioned: a) decision of a last instance
overbears that of the lower Courts; b) last instance Court decision efficacy is in
inverse proportion to the amount of decisions on the same rule; c) precedente
efficacy lays upon decisions’ circulation among judges (i.e. through databases and
law reports).
Depending on the kind of decision given, Supreme Courts decisions have
different efficacy:
a) vertical precedente: in case the Supreme Court reviews the lower Court
decision and returns back the trial to it, the lower Court has to apply the rule as
interpreted by the Supreme Court (civil procedure code: art. 384, § 2; art. 143 of
the implementing rules; criminal procedure code: art. 627, § 3; art. 628; art. 173, §
2 of the implementing rules).
b) autoprecedente: if, after the decision of the lower Court which respects the
ruling of the Supreme Court, the parties seek again review to the Supreme Court
in the same case, the Supreme Court itself must respect the ruling already given.
c) horizontal precedente: decision ruled by the main panel of the Supreme
Court has a consistency duty effect for the Supreme Court small panels (Code of
Civil Procedure: art. 374, § 3; Criminal Code of Procedure: art. 610, § 2; art. 618;
art. 172 of the implementing rules).
d) in other cases, judges can decide not to respect previous decision ruling,
however they are asked to explain with a strong reasoning their decision, using the
distinguishing technique, when precedente is related to a different case, or the
overruling technique, when the previous ruling is inadequate and another principle
should be applied in order to solve the case. If they fail in this, their decision will
probably be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
The problem of the creation of precedente presents a strong link with the style
of the decision: in other words, there is a connection between the length of
precedente upon the years and the reasoning techniques, that should be short,
simple and, if possible, contextual with the decision (art. 281-sexies of the Civil
Code of Procedure and art. 544 of the Criminal Code of Procedure). Recent laws
provided simple decisions (ordinanza) with a short reasoning in civil proceedings
(art. 375, 380-bis, 380-ter), while art. 610, § 1, of the Criminal Code of Procedure
(modified in 2001) has established the seventh criminal section at the Supreme
Court. The seven section is in charge to check the admissibility of the appeals to
the Supreme Court before sending them to the competent panels. It decides
through a decision with a short reasoning (ordinanza). Since it was established,
the seventh section decides finally around the 48% of the total amount of the
appeals presented to the Supreme Court.
In 2007 the main panel of the Supreme Court civil section ruled 1.427
decisions, while the main panel of the Supreme Court criminal section ruled 30
However, it should be noticed that the number of decisions passed by the
Supreme Court main civil and criminal panels are decreasing.
2.2. Massimario task towards jurisprudence harmonization. This is in part
due to important role of the Ufficio del Massimario, that has the task to study and
analyse jurisprudence by means of continuous monitoring of the Supreme Court
panels decisions. In particular, Massimario indexes civil seeks; makes summaries
of civil and penal selected decisions; points out pending conflicts of jurisprudence
and those that have been solved and main tendencies; prepares studies for the
main panels and updates on jurisprudence and lawyers tendencies on specific
Criteria for choosing which decisions should be summarized are provided by
President of the Supreme Court decrees approved on 11th July 1991, 27th May
1992 and 23rd January 2004, in force since 1st February 2004.
For each selected decision, Massimario prepares a short, clear and simple
summary, so called massima, that is a short statement (usually five to ten lines)
concerning the legal rule that has been used in the decision considered: it is stated
in very general terms, usually without any reference to the facts of the specific
case, and it takes into account only the legal side of the decision. It may contain a
restatement of the statutory rule that was applied in the decision, or a statement
concerning an interpretation of a rule, or a legal principle used by the Court. The
massima is extracted from the opinion included in the judgment; it concerns every
general statement of law that may be found in the opinion. Therefore several
massime can be derived from the same judgments, when it touches several legal
problems. Perhaps the most important feature of such a system is that massime are
usually stated without any effective connection with the facts in issue and with the
particular aspects of the single case. Correspondingly, it cannot be said that a
massima contains the ratio decidendi of the case.
The summary has to show the rationale at the basis of the decision, pointing
out the concrete rule that judges should bear in mind when deciding similar cases.
Before each summary relevant laws applied are mentioned, while at the end of the
summary previous decisions on the same or on similar cases are mentioned, even
10) In 2007, Massimario prepared 7.700 civil law summaries and 2.936 criminal law
summaries. Moreover, Massimario prepared 745 studies, 515 updates for the main panels; 144
reports for the criminal section; 136 reports for the criminal section.
when they ruled different principles (so called ipertesto).
Among decision sent every year to Massimario (13.500 on civil law, 25.000
on criminal law), around 30% of the civil ones and 12% of the criminal ones are
selected to be summarized. The record counts respectively 480.000 summaries in
civil law and 140.000 summaries in criminal law.
As for databases, Supreme Court and lower Courts decisions in civil, penal
and administrative law are collected within a period of two months after their
official publication, on a database ran by the Supreme Court Centro Elettronico
Dati (CED) called Italgiure ( It collects decisions
dating from the Sixties and they are published through a summary or in they
complete reasoning. Magistrates have free access at the website, while privates
have to subscribe in order to obtain a login password. Each decision available in
the website points out previous decisions (both similar or different) on the same
case in order to check if the decision summarized represents a unique decision or
is part of a general tendency.
Since 2004, Massimario is also in charge to update constantly the “servizio
novità” (updates service) on the website of the Supreme Court
(, which offers a free reporting service for both
professionals and individuals. A relevant part of the website is the one where
recently decided and pending contrasts, scheduled to be decided in short time by
the Supreme Court in its main panel, are mentioned: this is a useful instrument to
check the tendency of recent jurisprudence. Furthermore, at the beginning of
every years Massimario publishes a complete collection of the most important
cases in criminal and civil law, explaining the contrasts pending as well as the one
solved the year before.
The website provides selected Supreme Court decisions as well Constitutional
Court, European Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights decisions.
Moreover, also national and European laws can be found in the browser as well as
relevant documents and papers.
There are other services offered upon subscription that provides decisions of
Supreme and lower Courts, often adding an overview of Scholars publications in
law reviews.
3. Constitutionality issue, interpretation and application of EU and
European Convention on Human Rights rules. Speaking of the
constitutionality issue, the only thing that a judge can do by himself in order to
avoid an appeal for the intervention of the Constitutional Court is, while
interpreting the national law, to do the utmost to save the constitutionality of the
law. This means he needs to find an interpretation that could be consistent with the
Constitution. If this is not possible unless causing a breach in the system, the
judge should ask the Constitutional Court to annul the statutory law. The
Constitutional Court itself, prior to declaring the unconstitutionality of the law,
should try to offer an interpretation coherent with the Constitution. It should be
mentioned that the outcome of the decision of the Constitutional Court on the
constitutionality issue is binding erga omnes.
The same rule effect comes from the rulings of the European Court of Justice
(art. 274 of the EU Treaty).
A close examination on this point should also mention the relation between,
from one side, EU law and European Convention of Human Rights and, on the
other side, Italian laws.
The articles of the Constitution by means of which the Convention could
receive acknowledgement in our legal system are four: art. 10, paragraph 1, which
states that “The legal system of Italy conforms to the generally recognized
principles of international law”; art. 11, on the basis of which “Italy […] agrees to
limitations of sovereignty where they are necessary to allow for a legal system of
peace and justice between nations, provided the principle of reciprocity is
guaranteed; it promotes and encourages international organizations furthering
such ends”; art. 2, which states that “The republic recognizes and guarantees the
inviolable human rights, be it as an individual or in social groups expressing their
personality, and it ensures the performance of the unalterable duty to political,
economic, and social solidarity”; art. 117, paragraph 1 on the Legislative power,
which has been modified in the year 2001 and whose wording is: “Legislative
power belongs to the state and the regions in accordance with the constitution and
within the limits set by European union law and international obligations”.
The turning point for Italy is represented by two “twin” decisions that the
Constitutional Court handed down in 2007: the Court passed the interpretation that,
due to the new art. 117, paragraph 1 of the Constitution, the articles of the
Convention can be used as criteria to check whether an Act of Parliament can be
considered constitutional11). In other words, as art. 117, paragraph 1 mentions
“European union law and international obligations” and as the Convention is, as a
matter of fact, an international obligation, an Act of Parliament or a law made by a
local Parliament (which exist in each Italian region) must respect, apart of course
from the Constitution, even the rules of the European Convention of Human Rights.
This means that an Act of Parliament can’t change the law which implemented the
Convention and can’t breach its rules without being declared unconstitutional.
From the point of view of the Italian Courts, the decision means that, since the
issue of constitutionality belongs only to the Constitutional Court, a judge who
has to apply a law which seems to violate the European Convention of Human
Rights must engage the Constitutional Court. It in turn must check the
constitutionality of the law and eventually declare the annulment of the law.
As stressed by the Court itself, this is different from what happens when a
national rule breaks the European Union law: after many years of debate between
11) See Constitutional Court decisions nn. 348 and 349, handed down on 24th October 2007.
the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice, the outcome is that, in
case a law violates the European Union law, a judge (both at Trial Courts level
and at the Supreme Court level) can decide not to apply that law in the concrete
case but to directly apply the European union law instead. This is possible because
EU law has a special position in the hierarchy of the sources of law and is able to
produce direct effects on our legal system.
In 2010 the Constitutional Court passed two decisions in which it is stated that,
depending on their content, the rules of the Convention find their acknowledgement
not only in art. 117, paragraph 1, but also in art. 10, paragraph 1, of the
Constitution: as a matter of fact, art. 117, paragraph 1, will be the basis of the
acknowledgment in our legal order when referring to rules of the Convention which
are new in the international landscape, while art. 10, paragraph 1, will be the basis
when the rules of the Convention are only reproducing through their wordings a
generally recognized principle of international law (i.e. prohibition of torture)12).
Recently, the Constitutional Court confirmed its outcome, stating on the
consequence of the reform of art. 6 of the EU Treaty, as modified by the Lisbon
Treaty. As a matter of fact, the new wordings of art. 6, §§ 2 and 3, provide that: «2.
The Union shall accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Such accession shall not affect the Union’s
competences as defined in the Treaties. 3. Fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the
European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member
States, shall constitute general principles of the Union’s law». The question presented
to the Constitutional Court was: as the European Convention is now part of the EU
rules and as the EU is going to sign the Convention, will it be possible for the judge
applying a national law which breaks the European Convention to decide not to apply
the Italian law and to directly apply instead the principles of the Convention?
The Constitutional Court passed that, as the EU has not signed the Convention
yet, therefore art. 6 § 2 doesn’t produce any effect. The rules of the Convention
find then their acknowledgment not in art. 11, but still in art. 10 and 117, § 1 of
the Constitution: thus, as stated by the Court in 2010, a national judge who
suspects that a national law is not consistent with the European Convention should
involve the Constitutional Court to possibly annul it13).
The framework resulting from the decisions mentioned above shows that the
Convention rules cannot breach any of the rules of the Constitution. On the other
hand, as the Convention still keeps its nature of international treaty, its rules
cannot be forced or changed in their meaning in light of the Constitution.
Nevertheless, for sure the Constitutional Court decisions seem to pave the
way for the acknowledgment of the Convention as a Constitutional charter of
12) See decisions nn. 311 and 317 respectively passed on 16th and 30th November 2009.
13) See Constitutional Court decision n. 80, passed on 11th March 2011.
fundamental rights, pursuing eventually the aim to place the Convention and the
Constitution altogether at the top of the source of law hierarchy.
4. European Court of Justice decision and ECHR decisions effects in light
of recent Italian jurisprudence
4.1. European Court of Justice preliminary ruling decision effects.
European Court of Justice preliminary rulings have direct effect in the trial that
provoked the European Court of Justice decision: as stated in art. 274 of the EU
Treaty, the Italian judge who asked for a preliminary ruling is bound by the result
given by the Court. The only possibility given to the judge is to ask for a new
preliminary ruling in order to solve different problems, except the one already
ruled by the Court.
As for different trials, a European Court of Justice precedente allows the
national judge not to ask for a preliminary ruling in a similar case (which is
mandatory for last instance judges), but still the judge can ask for a preliminary
ruling in order to obtain an overruling decision on a similar case. Both
Constitutional Court and Supreme Court acknowledge an erga omnes effect to
European Court of Justice preliminary rulings decisions, that overbears national
inconsistent laws14).
The binding effect is acknowledged not only to the command but also to the
obiter dicta, that are the part of the decision An obiter dictum is a remark or
observation made by a judge that, although included in the body of the Court’s
opinion, does not form a necessary part of the Court’s decision. In a Court
opinion, obiter dicta include, but are not limited to, words introduced by way of
illustration, or analogy or argument. This is valid for rulings both on interpretation
and on the annulment of a European rule or act.
4.2. ECHR decisions effects in light of recent Italian jurisprudence. As stated
in art 46, paragraph 1, of the European Convention, “if the Court finds that there has
been a violation of the Convention or the protocols thereto, and if the internal law of
the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the
Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party”. The Committee
of Ministers is competent in identifying the public administration of the sentenced
Country in charge of the payment of the “just satisfaction”.
A second effect is the obligation to conform to the sentence purview: the State
has the duty to reproduce the situation existent before the breach of the Convention
and to adopt any needed measure to stop the violation, delete its consequences or
prevent other similar violations.
14) See Constitutional Court decisions no. 113, passed on 19th of April, 1985; no. 389, passed
on 11th September 1989; Supreme Court decisions no. 2787, passed on 28th March 1997 and no.
9653, passed on 3rd October 1997.
The practice of the Committee of Ministers in supervising the execution of the
Court’s judgements shows that in exceptional circumstances the re-examination of
a case or a reopening of the proceedings has proved the most efficient, if not the
only, means of achieving restitutio in integrum. As a matter of fact, in the year
2000 the Committee of Ministers approved a Recommendation inviting the
member States to adopt measures in order to assure the injured person’s restitutio
in integrum, also by means of a re-examination of the case, including reopening of
the proceeding15). In particular, when the violation consists in the breach of the
defendant’s right to take part at the trial, ECHR jurisprudence states that “a retrial
or the reopening of the case, if requested, represents in principle the appropriate
way of redressing the violation”, all the same confirming that it’s not her duty “to
indicate how any new trial (or re-examination of the applicant’s appeal) is to
proceed and what form it is to take”16).
Recently, on January, 15th 2010, the State Duma of the Russian Federation has
voted in favour of the draft law ratifying Protocol no. 14 to the European
Convention on Human Rights. On February, 19th 2010, the President of the Court
has received the depositing by the Russian Federation of its instrument of
ratification. Protocol no. 14 will be effective three months after its deposit. As for
what matters to the present study, it is relevant that art. 46 of the Convention will
be amended: the new provisions are more strict in introducing an infringement
procedure towards the State which does not respect its obligation to adopt
measures requested by the ECHR decision.
A large number of States adopted special legislation providing for the
possibility of re-examination of the case or reopening of the proceedings. In other
States this possibility has been developed by the Courts and national authorities
under existing law. The two missing States are Spain and Italy. From the Italian
perspective, the question becomes ticklish when it comes into consideration that the
Italian criminal procedure law doesn’t provide any remedy against the execution of
a decision adopted in breach of the ECHR principles. Nor the Italian criminal
procedure code gives the opportunity to replace the trial with a new one that
respects the Convention rules. The revision of the final decision is an extraordinary
remedy on an otherwise final judgment conviction. Such an attack is allowed only
when there is new evidence which alone, or in connection with other evidences,
shows that the defendant must be acquitted, or that the conviction was based on
false or fabricated evidence. This remedy is not available to a condemned person
who seeks a more favorable disposition or for a mild punishment17).
15) See Recommendation R (2000) 2 of the Committee of Ministers.
16) See the following ECHR decisions: Pititto v. Italy, 12th November 2007; Kollcaku v. Italy,
8th February 2007; Zunic v. Italy, 21st December 2006; Alì Ay v. Italy, 14th December 2006;
Sejdovic v. Italy, 1st March 2006; Somogyi v. Italy, 18th May 2004.
17) See art. 630 of the Italian criminal procedure code.
Up till now, this problem has only been solved by case law. The action chosen
was to interpreting the rules of the Italian code of criminal procedure that were
provided for different kinds of situations. In these decisions, judges acted as
substitutes of the Parliament because a specific law for the case was lacking.
The first decision passed by the Supreme Court (Corte di Cassazione) is
related to the “Cat Berro case”. ECHR sentenced Italy because the trial at the end
of which the accused was sentenced was unfair. Therefore, the defendant’s
counsel asked the competent Court of Appeal to annul the execution of the
sentence. The Court of Appeal rejected the request and the defendant sought
review by the Supreme Court, which stated that the matter of the effects of ECHR
decisions on a final conviction issued at the end of an unfair trial cannot be
decided by the Court of Appeal pending the execution, but should be analyzed in a
cross-examination procedure. Accordingly, the Supreme Court annulled the Court
of Appeal decision, which had to decide again on the point, but rejected the
defendant’s request a second time18).
A more insightful decision has been handed down in the “Somogyi case”. An
Hungarian citizen sentenced in Italy for trafficking weapons appealed to the
ECHR at the end of an in absentia trial. The ECHR sentenced Italy for violating
the defendant’s right to be present at the trial because there was no evidence of the
fact that the defendant was aware of the ongoing trial. After that, the Supreme
Court stated that the defendant could appeal the first instance decision in
accordance with art. 175 of the code of procedure, which entitles a person who,
without his fault, was not aware of the trial to appeal the decision even if the time
period to apply has expired19).
The third one is known as “Dorigo case”: Mr. Dorigo was sentenced in a final
instance in 1996 to thirteen years in prison. After Mr. Dorigo’s appeal, the ECHR
sentenced Italy because the conviction was based on statements made during the
investigations by three witnesses who, once the trial came to the Court, took the
right to refuse to answer20). This caused a breach of the defendant’s right to
confront and question the witness against him provided by art. 6 of the
After the ECHR decision, Mr. Dorigo asked the competent judge (Court of
Appeal in Bologna) to stop the execution of the final decision condemning him,
taking advantage of ECHR decision. However, the Court of Appeal, refused to
accept the request and asked the Constitutional Court to decide whether the Italian
rule which provides the review only in the abovementioned hypothesis (i.e.
18) See ECHR, Cat Berro v. Italy, 28th August 1991; ECHR, Cat Berro v. Italy, 25th November
2008; Cassazione penale, sez. I, September, 22nd 2005, n. 35616; Corte d’assise d’appello di
Milano, 30th January 2006, Cat Berro.
19) See ECHR, Somogyi v. Italy, 18th May 2004; Cassazione penale, sez. I, 18th May 2006, n. 56581.
20) This was possible according to the version of art. 513 of the criminal procedure code in
force before the amendment introduced in 1997.
discovery of an evidence which alone, or in connection with other evidences,
shows that the defendant must be acquitted) was respectful of the principles of the
In 2008, Constitutional Court stated that only the Parliament is competent to
decide whether a trial can be reviewed: according to the Italian principio di
tassatività delle impugnazioni, the circumstances in which it is possible to apply
for appeal are limited by the statutory law. Therefore, it’s a duty of the Parliament
to find a remedy in case a final decisions is passed at the end of trials that the
ECHR considers unlawful accordingly to the European Convention rules.
At the same time, the Public prosecutor in Udine, competent for the execution
of the sentence condemning Mr. Dorigo and aware of the critical situation, asked
the execution judge to declare that Mr. Dorigo’s detention was not lawful because
based on a final decision which was the outcome of an unlawful trial. However,
the execution judge rejected his request stating that: a) the execution judge should
only check the existence of a final decision, no matter what happened during the
trial; b) there’s no instrument to renew a trial in this case, and a decision stopping
the execution would create the strange situation in which a final decision is
suspended without closure to the procedure.
The Public prosecutor sought review by the Supreme Court, which admitted
the Public prosecutor’s claim stating that, whenever ECHR sentences Italy for
unlawfulness of a trial, the defendant has the right to ask for a review of the
decision and Italy should respect the ECHR decision, according to art. 46 of the
Convention. Even if the Italian code of criminal procedure doesn’t allow a review
for this particular case, the judge in charge of the execution should declare that he
cannot execute the decision condemning the defendant, because in doing so he
would breach the Convention rules for two times in the same case (in particular, a
breach of art. 5 of the Convention)21).
According to art. 670 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, should the judge
stop the execution, the defendant will once more have the time to apply for the
appeal. However, in the Dorigo case, the Supreme Court only blocked the
execution, stating nothing about the renewal of the trail. By doing this, the
Supreme Court avoided a breach of art. 5 of the Convention but still didn’t solve
the problem of the right of a review of the final decision.
In the “Drassich case”, Mr. Drassich was sentenced to eight years and three
months in prison for corruption. Seeking review by the Supreme Court, he said
that the crime has lapsed, but the Court rejected his claim giving a different
qualification of the fact committed: instead of “simple” corruption, the conduct
was considered corruption of the judiciary. This has a more severe punishment
which results in a longer prescription time and in the final conviction of Mr.
21) See ECHR, Dorigo v. Italy, 16th November 2000; Cassazione penale, sez. I, 1st December
2006, n. 2800; Corte costituzionale, 30th April 2008, n. 129.
Drassich. Therefore, Mr. Drassich presented his appeal to the ECHR. It sentenced
Italy because the change in the indictment after the trial in factual instance had
been completed was not respectful of art. 6 of the European Convention: neither
the defendant nor the Public prosecutor had the possibility to discuss the new
qualification. Taking advantage of the ECHR decision, Mr. Drassich asked to the
competent judge to stop the execution on the basis of art. 670 of the Italian
Criminal Procedure Code, as the Supreme Court stated in the “Dorigo case”.
Nevertheless, in this case the Supreme Court, though stating that the final decision
couldn’t be executed, didn’t apply art. 670 of the Criminal Procedure Code. As a
matter of fact, its decision was based on art. 625-bis: however, art. 625-bis
provides an extraordinary remedy useful only in case of mistake on fact22).
On February 2010 the Supreme Court decided the “Scoppola case”. Mr
Scoppola was final sentenced to life-imprisonment because he murdered his wife
and tried to kill one of his sons. During the first-instance trial, Mr. Scoppola asked
to apply for a special proceeding (giudizio abbreviato) that grants the defendant to
obtain: a) reduction of the punishment by 1/3 if he is found guilty; b) a change
from in life imprisonment to thirty years imprisonment; c) no daytime isolation
during life imprisonment23).
The first-instance Court admitted Mr. Scoppola’s request and sentenced him
to thirty years in prison. However, on the day of the decision, a law entered into
force providing an interpretation of the said special proceeding: according to that
law, Mr. Scoppola should have been sentenced to life imprisonment because the
punishment for murder together with other crimes he committed is punishable
with life imprisonment and daytime isolation. Then, thanks to giudizio abbreviato,
it would have turned into life imprisonment.
On this basis, the Public prosecutor applied to the Court of Appeal, which
admitted the claim and sentenced Mr. Scoppola to life imprisonment, stating that,
in respect of the tempus regit actum principle, the judge should apply the new law
to the pending case.
The core question is: if that law is considered as a procedural law, then the
judge should respect tempus regit actum principle. If, instead, is considered as a
substantive criminal law, the judge should apply the rules which provide the lesser
punishment, in respect of art. 2 of the criminal code, art. 25 of the Constitution
and, last but not least, art. 7 of the European Convention.
22) See ECHR, Drassich v. Italy, 11th December 2007; Cassazione penale, sez. VI, 12th
November 2008, n. 45807. The Supreme Court, however, not only solved the single case
suggesting art. 625-bis of the code of criminal procedure as a special remedy, but also gave a
general solution if the breach of the right to confrontation happens during the second-instance trial:
in this case, the defendant has the opportunity to apply a claim to the Supreme Court by using the
general remedy of art. 606, lett. c of the criminal code of procedure, which entitles the defendant to
seek review whenever a criminal procedure rule has been violated during the proceedings.
23) See art. 438-443 of the Criminal Code of Procedure.
Firstly, the Court explained that “Article 7, paragraph 1, of the Convention
guarantees not only the principle of non-retrospectiveness of more stringent criminal
laws but also, and implicitly, the principle of retrospectiveness of the more lenient
criminal law. That principle is embodied in the rule that where there are differences
between the criminal law in force at the time of the commission of the offence and
subsequent criminal laws enacted before a final judgment is rendered, the Courts
must apply the law whose provisions are most favourable to the defendant”.
Secondly, the Court considers that Article 442, paragraph 2, of the Criminal
Procedure Code is a “provision of substantive criminal law concerning the length
of the sentence to be imposed in the event of conviction following trial under the
summary procedure. It therefore falls within the scope of the last sentence of
Article 7 § 1 of the Convention”. In respect of this reasoning, the ECHR
sentenced Italy because of violation of art. 7 of the Convention24).
Therefore, taking advantage of the “Drassich case” decision, Mr. Scoppola
asked for the special remedy provided by art. 625-bis. The Supreme Court
accepted this request, thus revoking the final decision sentencing Mr. Scoppola to
life-imprisonment and stating itself on points of punishment, in order to avoid
another trial at a lower Court, which is normally competent to decide in these
cases: eventually, the punishment has been the conviction to 30 years in prison25).
Even if the outcome is in line with the European Court ruling and result is
consistent with fair trial principles, once again this decision points out the
problem related to the fact that there is not a proper law to rule the issue of the re-
opening of final decisions, after a European Court of Human Rights’ decision
stating that the trial was unfair.
From the examples mentioned above, we can say that Italian jurisprudence
found a solution using a technique that, from the victim’s rights point of view,
deserves approval. However, even Scholars agree that, following the
Constitutional Court decision, the Parliament should approve a specific law in
order to avoid uncertainty and discrimination among defendants. In evidence of
the fact that the solution is not completely welcomed by the judges of the
Supreme Court itself, all the sections of the Supreme Court will take part in a
meeting at the end of April to decide whether to submit the question to the plenary
session, in order to find a shared solution given that a law on the point is lacking.
The only relevant reform has been introduced on the 28th November 2005
with the decree of the President of the Italian Republic no. 289, which provides a
new ruling for the criminal records, stating that the ECHR decisions must be
added to the defendant’s criminal record below the Italian final decision to which
they are referred. Even if this is not practically useful, it has the implicit meaning
of a first step towards a modification of the effects of the Italian decision.
24) See ECHR, Scoppola v. Italy, 19th September 2009.
25) Cassazione penale, sez. V, 28th April 2010, n. 230, Scoppola.
The above mentioned Recommendation R (2000) 2, encourages “the
Contracting Parties to examine their national legal systems with a view to
ensuring that there exist adequate possibilities of re-examination of the case,
including reopening of proceedings, in instances where the Court has found a
violation of the Convention, especially where (i) the injured party continues to
suffer very serious negative consequences because of the outcome of the domestic
decision at issue, which are not adequately remedied by the just satisfaction and
cannot be rectified except by re-examination or reopening, and (ii) the judgment
of the Court leads to the conclusion that: (a) the impugned domestic decision is on
the merits contrary to the Convention, or (b) the violation found is based on
procedural errors or shortcomings of such gravity that a serious doubt is cast on
the outcome of the domestic proceedings”.
Bearing in mind these wordings, from 1998 on, several draft bills have been
presented to the Parliament in order to introduce an instrument that allows a
renewal of the trial or a revision of the decision passed at the end of a trial
considered unlawful by the ECHR, but none of them has been approved nor even
discussed by the two Chambers of the Parliament yet.
The drafts choose among two options: modify art. 630 of the Criminal Procedure
Code, which provides four cases in which it is possible to ask for a revision of the
decision condemning the defendant, or introduce a specific rule for the case.
Analysing the drafts, it’s possible to notice that they entitle the sentenced
defendant to apply for a renewal of the trial only if criminal procedure rules have
been violated during the trial. Nothing is provided in case the breach is related to
substantial rules. Some of them are even more strict, limiting the possibility to
seek review only when a breach of art. 6 of the Convention is committed. Of
course this is not in line with the Committee of the Ministers Recommendation R
(2000) 2 and would exclude from the remedy a large number of cases. From the
above mentioned cases, we can mention the last one (Scoppola), as an example in
which ECHR sentenced Italy for violation of art. 7 of the Convention.
Secondly, some of the drafts provide the special remedy only if the defendant
has been sentenced to prison, or to any other non-pecuniary punishment, thus
excluding all the unlawful trials at the end of which the defendants are obliged to
pay a fine.
The competent judge will be the Court of Appeal, and the judge should renew
only the part of the trial in which ECHR ascertained a violation of the
The revision of the final decision is admitted in the Italian system only if it
could lead to the defendant’s acquittal. However, this is not always useful for the
situations we are analyzing, because the Convention does not demand that should
incorporate the possibility of the defendant’s acquittal. The draft-bills suggest that
at the end of the new trial which respects the rules of the Convention, there are
two options for the competent judge: a) confirm the first decision, b) annul it.
Moreover, as suggested by Scholars, three more questions arise: 1) in case the
trial was held against two or more defendants and only one of them applied to the
ECHR, what should happen to the co-accused who didn’t apply to the ECHR?; 2)
what is going to happen to the victim who already had her compensation for the
damages suffered?; 3) how is the new law going to solve the matter that both
judge and participants to the trial should face in terms of possible loss of evidence
due to the period elapsed.
These questions were still pending when the Constitutional Court, asked again
to check whether the wordings of art. 630 of the Code of Criminal Procedure are
in line with the Constitution by means of art. 117, which provides that Italian laws
are bound by International and European rules, decided, on 4th April 2011, that art.
630 is not consistent with the Constitution in that it doesn’t provide the review
remedy in case the European Court of Human Rights states that the Italian trial
was not fair and thus ordering the renewal of the trial. The 2008 Constitutional
Court decision on the same issue ruled that it’s a duty of the Parliament to find a
remedy in case a final decisions is passed at the end of trials that the ECHR
considers unlawful accordingly to the European Convention rules. The aim of the
decision was to respect the role of the Parliament and wait for the approval of a
law in order to introduce the proper instrument in this particular case: however, as
mentioned above, no further steps since 2008 have been made by the Parliament.
This is why, after two years and a half, the Constitutional Court decided from a
certain point of view to replace the Parliament stating that, without any other
provisions, art. 630 of the Criminal Code of Procedure should be applied in these
cases. Moreover, this is also a way to overcome the solutions given by the
Supreme Court as far as regards art. 670 and art. 625-bis of the Code of Criminal
However, within the reasoning of the 2011 decision, the Court stated that this
is a temporary solution, while waiting a new law on the issue, and that it doesn’t
affect the Parliament competence to choose for another and more suitable
instrument to offer a review of the case26).
5. The World coming in: Italian jurisprudence and globalisation at a
glance. The globalization phenomenon offers several grounds for debate among
judges and Scholars: as a matter of fact, movement of persons and relations
between people living in different countries is at interest of new and incoming
decisions at courts. In particular, there at least three main issues that could be
mentioned as a consequence of globalization.
First of all, in the criminal field, could a behaviour that is considered as a
crime in our Country don’t be punished because in the foreign Country from
which the defendant comes is expression of a cultural and ethnological heritage?
26) Corte cost., sent. 4th Aprile 2011, no. 113.
The main interesting case is related to infibulation in Islamic Countries: it’s an
habit in the Middle East and Africa, while its of course an injury all over Europe.
Different theories have been proposed by Scholars and jurisprudence, considering
different rules applied in analogy with the present case: i.e. the exercise of a rule
in force among the ethnical community the accused lives in; the right not to be
discriminated because of the national origin; the case of the crime committed with
the agreement of the victim. However, jurisprudence tends not to acquit such
conducts on the abovementioned grounds because the right to healthiness and not
to be injured is a Constitution provision that can be applied in two perspectives:
that of the victim, who has to be protected (usually, an underage person) and that
of the defendant, who has to respect Italian laws that crash with the ethnic habits
he was used to respect when he lived in his Country.
Secondly, thinking about the victim, another question may rise: is the victim
entitled to ask for damages even if he is not a citizen in our Country? A first
theory limits the right only to the cases in which an Italian citizen would have the
same right in the Country where the victim in fact lives. A second theory, applying
the Constitution, affirms that the right to damages is a right to which all injured
persons are entitled to. A third theory limits the right only to particular damages
(i.e. “moral” damages, related to sufferance that comes from a crime are not part
of the amount of damages the victim is entitled to ask). The Supreme Court ruled
in this case that the right to ask for damages, even related to moral injuries, is
generally acknowledged to persons, regardless the place where they come from27).
Finally, speaking of victim’s relatives entitled to ask for damages, there is a
debate going on when it comes to consider the quantification of the restoration to
relatives of a foreigner victim who has been injured (or killed) in Italy but comes
from abroad: a first theory, approved by the Supreme court, considers that if the
relatives live in another Country, then restoration should be calculated only
considering the economic and the cost-living index of that Country. The other
theory instead applies the same rules used in Italy for Italian victims’ relatives.
The debate is still going on and affects not only law interpretation and principles
application, but also law-and-economics issues, related both to different levels of
wealth among Countries as well as the idea of the World as a whole on points of
fundamental rights28).
6. Conclusions. Non unity of jurisprudence is a known phenomenon in Italy.
Several agents lead to the possibility of multiple and opposite decisions.
First of all, a judge who is going decide a case has to face the mass of Italian
legislation, which is now more than a little intimidating; the body of national and
27) See, Tribunale di Catania, 13th June 2005, no. 1807; Corte di Cassazione, 24 febbraio 2010,
no. 4484.
28) See, Tribunale di Torino, 19 july 2010, no. 4932; Corte di Cassazione, 14th February 2000,
no. 1637.
regional laws and regulations and their accompanying judicial exegesis appears
overwhelming. The Italian system suffers of a compulsive statute-making.
Apparently, there are from 150,000 to 200,000 statutory laws, although the exact
number of the laws in force is not known. Also regional laws and regulations and
the European Union rules must be added. This causes uncertainty in finding the
rule that should be applied to concrete case and may lead to confusion among
persons and within Courts.
Sometimes, however, referring the issue of the implementation of ECHR
decisions sentencing Italy on points of unfairness of its trials, it should be noticed that
jurisprudence often acts, as there are no laws ruling the issue, interpreting the existent
laws in order to avoid the risk of breaching ECHR guarantees and principles:
Supreme Court and Constitutional Court have been involved several times, trying to
fill the gaps in the statutory laws, offering sometimes different solutions, with the
main aim to respect European and International duties and individual rights.
Secondly, as mentioned above, the number of cases discussed at Courts leaves
and impression: beyond the thousands of magistrates and inferior judges, Corte di
cassazione decides close to 50,000 cases (both in criminal and civil trials) per
year. The final administrative Court, Consiglio di Stato, decides over 10,000 cases
per year, while the Constitutional Court decides less than 400 cases per year. A
clear reason behind the volume of judgments delivered by Italian Courts, and one
that hampers the development of the stare decisis principle is the constitutional
condition that neither the Court of Cassation, nor the Council of State, are
permitted any discretion in selecting cases: they must to accept and decide on
appeal any judgments from lower Courts. The Constitutional Court, asking for the
requisite of the abovementioned rilevanza and non manifesta infondatezza, avoids
this situation. Also the seventh criminal section at the Corte di cassazione, in
halting proceedings before sending them to Courts when they don’t deserve any
further analysis because they fail to match the requisites upon which an appeal is
possible, tries to limit the number of cases passed by the Supreme Court.
Thirdly, if the Italian legislation is difficult to manage and case law is
overwhelming, from a constitutional law perspective, the system needs to balance,
on one hand, multiple interpretations and creative dimension of jurisprudence and,
on the other hand, uniformity and predictability of judicial decisions, in order to
assure respect of the equality principle, the certainty of law principle and the
judge independence in the interpretation of laws. As a matter of fact, as
magistrates have only to respect law and the Judiciary is independent from the
executive, judges gradually became aware that they are the protagonists of the law
in action, and not merely bureaucratic enforcement bodies.
Although the specific instruments mentioned in the study have an important role
in controlling the tendency of jurisprudence as well as in the creation of precedente
(rules on nomofilachia function, Massimario, databases), among judges and among
lawyers in general there is still a widespread consciousness and awareness that law-
cases have only a persuasive authority and it’s just hard to figure out if and when
stare decisis principle will deserve in Italy more than a fundamental rule in the
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