Analysis. Central Executive Council of the National Association of Judges: ‘It is a reform that doesn’t concern the actual needs of justice, but expresses the clear intention to implement control by politics over the judiciary.’

Meloni’s government quickly approves judicial reform, a posthumous tribute to Berlusconi

Twenty minutes is the time it takes to walk to the Quirinal Palace, the seat of the President, from the Prime Minister’s office at Palazzo Chigi at a leisurely pace. On Wednesday, around noon, that’s all the time it took for the Council of Ministers to approve the project for justice system reform which aims at a move towards the separation of the careers of judges and prosecutors, something that had always been an unreachable dream for Silvio Berlusconi in all his long years in government.

Justice Minister Nordio calls it an “epochal” reform. Meloni calls it a “just, necessary and historic” one. The text is only three pages and one line long, with eight articles (including transitional provisions). And its scope is quite a bit smaller than expected: the last meeting among the majority to iron out the details took place during the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, after Mantovano and Nordio’s meeting with President Mattarella. The idea of defining the role of lawyers in the Constitution was dropped; same with the abolition of mandatory prosecution. The bill does, however, set up the separation of careers between the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office.

It doesn’t say so explicitly, but that is the direction: two High Councils of the Judiciary (CSM) will be set up, both headed by the President of the Republic, but with separate functions. And their members will be drawn by lot: entirely for the judges, partially (that is, drawn from a list of names voted on by Parliament) for the prosecutors. There will also be a High Court to settle disciplinary matters, appointed by the Quirinale for the judges and drawn by lot for the prosecutors. It won’t be possible to appeal its decisions to the Supreme Court: the appeal will have to be made before the High Court itself, which will entrust the assessment of the case to other judges than those who made the first ruling. That’s the sum of it, pending the implementing laws that will follow.

When would this be implemented? It’s hard to say: the process for passing a constitutional amendment bill is a long one, and Wednesday’s approval, as important as it was, was above all a trophy for Forza Italia to bring home on the eve of the European elections. For the FI, it proves they’re still around and it’s a show of their political strength, which is definitely greater than at the beginning of the legislature, when the Azzurri were the runt of the litter among the right-wing coalition. It’s a trophy dedicated to the memory of Berlusconi, who always longed for the forbidden dream of judicial career separation, which remained forever outside his reach.

In the brief press conference on the sidelines of the council of ministers, Minister Nordio delivered a stern warning to the National Association of Judges (ANM): “They have to accept it: the will of the people is sacred and was expressed by the voters who gave us a mandate to implement this reform.” Then he defended the oddball idea of the members of the High Councils being entirely drawn by lot (“One cannot imagine that people who are incompetent, incapable, of little ethical credibility would be drawn, precisely because the pool from which they are drawn is an extremely qualified one”), and finally dedicated the reform to Giuliano Vassalli and Giovanni Falcone.

He explained the dedication to Vassalli, the “hero of the resistance,” because “he had supported the prosecution code from which we were inspired for this constitutional reform.” The dedication to Falcone came on very shaky grounds, tied to an old story suggesting he favored the separation of careers. This is actually not the case: Falcone, in the aftermath of the reform of the penal code and the elimination of the figure of the investigating judge, spoke out for the greater specialization of prosecutors but never mentioned a division between judges and prosecutors. Moreover, during his career, the Palermo magistrate repeatedly requested to switch from one function to the other, and did so on a number of occasions.

Undersecretary Alfredo Mantovano, the architect of the reform on par with Nordio (and perhaps even more so), is fully aware that this is not a done deal. Accordingly, he has begun to send signals: “The text is not set in stone,” hinting at the upcoming votes in Parliament. At the same time, he was keen to project great confidence: “It’s not a given that a referendum will be needed,” meaning that he thinks there might be a two-thirds majority willing to vote for the reform in Parliament. In support of this notion, Mantovano recalled the Bicameral Commission on Constitutional Reform headed by Massimo D’Alema between 1997-98, arguing that at the time there was “not even marginal agreement among the leftist political forces” on the issue of career separation.

As for the magistrates, they’re gearing up for a fight: “The underlying logic of the bill can be traced back to a punitive intention toward the ordinary judiciary,” reads a note from the Central Executive Council of the National Association of Judges. “It is a reform that doesn’t concern the actual needs of justice, but expresses the clear intention to implement control by politics over the judiciary.”

Giovanni Zaccaro, judge and secretary of Area Democratica per la Giustizia, had harsh words about the proposed reform: “Citizens need a justice system that works well. They should fear this reform, which aims to make judges delegitimized and afraid.” Meloni herself responded with a statement to “What would I be taking revenge on magistrates for? I don’t understand why the separation of careers can be considered punitive toward prosecutors,” the premier said. “I consider it strange that some can consider it revenge. One takes revenge on someone who has done something bad, one takes revenge on an enemy. I don’t consider magistrates to be enemies. I’d like to ask the one who made this statement if they think of those in government as enemies.” Regardless of these reassuring tones, ANM president Giuseppe Santalucia had a very frosty reception toward the initiative: “Will we go on strike? I don’t know, during this phase we’re studying the matter. We will decide.” On Saturday, June 15, an extraordinary meeting of the central executive committee of the judges’ union will take place. The mood has already reverted to that of darker days.

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