The Judicial Branch of the Democratic Republic of Italy

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  • 0:09 Italy's Judicial Branch
  • 2:07 Overseers
  • 2:48 Lower Courts
  • 4:20 Higher Courts
  • 6:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will discuss Italy's judicial branch. We will focus especially on its basic characteristics, its leadership, and its variety of courts.

Italy's Judicial Branch

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you are here today to make a decision concerning Italy's judicial system. I will present you with a collection of facts. You will determine whether Italy's court system is efficient and effective or whether it needs reforms. Are you ready? Then let's begin.

Fact #1: Italy's judicial branch is independent from the other branches of the nation's government, and it operates according to a mixed legal system.

What do I mean by this? First, according to Italy's Constitution, the judicial system is not controlled or even much regulated by Parliament or the executive branch. Most judges, with only a few exceptions that we'll discuss later, are appointed from within the judicial system and are subject to the law alone. They do not have bosses, and they cannot easily lose their jobs, even for misconduct.

Second, Italy's legal system combines elements of both the inquisitorial and adversarial systems. In other words, Italian courts take an active part in criminal and civil investigations (inquisitorial) and also moderate between the defense and the prosecution (adversarial). Further, Italian law is a mixed bag of laws from the ancient Roman Law, regulations from the early 19th century Napoleonic Code, regional laws, and modern legislation.

Most lawyers and judges don't even know all of the thousands of Italian laws, some of which conflict with each other and many of which tend to be just plain ignored. These factors do, however, make the Italian legal system very, very slow. Cases progress through the system at a snail's pace, taking, on average, ten years before a judgment is handed down.


Fact #2: Italy's judicial branch is overseen by two organizational bodies.

First, the Ministry of Justice handles the judicial system's administrative details and assigns court personnel to various roles within the system. Second, the High Council of the Judiciary is responsible for appointing judges throughout the judicial system. Led by the president of the Republic and mostly composed of judges who are elected to the Council by their peers or by Parliament, the Council can also transfer judges, assign them to different positions, and discipline them as necessary.

Lower Courts

Fact #3: Italy is served by several lower courts, or courts of first instance, which cover a variety of jurisdictions.

Listen to this list of courts:

  • The Justice of Peace, which hears minor civil cases
  • The Tribunal, which covers both criminal and civil matters and hears appeals from the Justice of Peace
  • The Labor Tribunal, which hears labor disputes and settles lawsuits between employees and employers
  • The Land Estate Court, which handles cases concerning land disputes
  • The Family Proceedings Court, which hears cases concerning minors
  • The Administrative Court, which deals with matters of public interests and funds
  • The Court of Accounts, which handles financial matters
  • The Court of Assizes, which hears the most serious criminal cases

Let's take just a moment to talk a bit more about the Court of Assizes. As I said, it hears serious criminal cases, like those involving murder or terrorism, and it is composed of two professional judges and six lay judges or jury people, who are chosen from Italian citizens between 30 and 65 years of age. The professional and lay judges work together to achieve a verdict, and they can impose penalties all the way up to life in prison.

Higher Courts

Fact #4: The Italian judicial system provides two courts of second instance to hear appeals from the lower courts.

The Court of Appeals hears appeals from all the lower courts except the Court of Assizes. The Court of Appeals is split into three sections for civil, labor, and criminal cases. The Court of Appeals of the Assizes handles appeals for the serious criminal cases heard by the Court of Assizes.

Fact #5: Italy has two supreme courts.

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