Sue me!

Being a blogger is dangerous. If you make fun of Al-Qaeda, you will be beheaded one day. If you write about Mexican drug cartels, they try to run you over. And then there are the constant cease-and-desist letters and lawsuits copyright or trademark infringement, defamation, libel, slander and betrayal of state secrets.

The latter don’t worry me much.

Not only because I am a lawyer and know that you can safely ignore most cease-and-desist letters, but because I live in Italy. If somebody threatens to sue me, I can respond with a clear conscience “Please, sue me!” and provide my address for formal service. Because by the time the complaint will be served, I will probably live somewhere else already.

Italy civil trialsOn average (!) it takes 8 years for a civil proceeding in Italy to be concluded with a final verdict. Civil trials generally are not the fastest (and not only courts are to blame, as it is often in the parties’ and their lawyers’ interest to drag out the case), but the chart on the right shows that Italian courts are extra-slow. I worked as an attorney – in Germany – for 7 years. Had I spent the same time working as a lawyer in Italy, it would have been possible that on my last day at work none of my cases would have been completed. That can’t be a satisfying job.

When Mario Barbuto became president of the civil court in Turin 12 years ago, he discovered that the oldest pending case had been initiated 43 years earlier. It must have occupied generations of plaintiffs, defendants, lawyers, liquidators and intervenors like in Bleak House by Charles Dickens. In Italy altogether there is a backlog of 5.2 million cases.

That problem and its tactical usefulness are well-known outside of Italy under the menacing name “Italian torpedo”. If you expect that you will soon be sued before a British court for example, you can file a request for a negative declaratory judgement on the same subject matter with an Italian court. Then the British proceeding is put on the back burner [to use simplified language that won’t confuse laypeople] until the Italian court will have issued its ruling. And that may take years.

It’s easy to make fun of the Italian justice system. But it’s not justified. Because from time to time there are cases here that earn my respect. Only two examples, both criminal proceedings though:

  • Italy is the only country to have convicted secret agents for one of the extraordinary renditions of terror subjects which took place after 2001. In 2003 Abu Omar was abducted in Milan by the CIA and was taken to Egypt. Italian prosecutors investigated and were able to determine the kidnappers’ identities. The brought charges against the Americans and Italians involved. Despite enormous political pressure to drop the case or to let it rest, 23 CIA agents were convicted to prison sentences (although the Italian government refused to seek their extradition from the USA). The former director of Italian Military Intelligence was sentenced to 10 years in prison, his deputy to 9 years. Prosecutors in other European countries from which people had been abducted opened a pro forma file, if at all, and then let it gather dust.
  • A few months ago, a court in Taranto convicted 27 managers of the largest steelworks in Europe to up to 9 years in prison for, inter alia, involuntary manslaughter (cancer caused by asbestos and pollution). Everywhere else, pollution is dealt with in the administrative or civil court system and financial compensation is all that is required. Outside of Italy, not many prosecutors and judges dare to indict the managers personally.

There are a few things that other countries could learn from Italy.

(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.)

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Italy, Law and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Sue me!

  1. Pingback: Verklagt mich doch! | Der reisende Reporter

  2. Pingback: It’s time to move again | The Happy Hermit

  3. Your blog is an insult to my country. Italy does not hold the record for the longest average time to settle a civil case. In my country you can easily beat that: take your 6 years or longer in a lower court, appeal to the high court and gain another 3 years, and then you can still go to supreme court and spend another 3 years there. Hah. I will take you to court for ignoring us.

    • Hah, there is nothing better than a court case between friends! A good reason to meet from time to time and to have a great meal after each hearing…

      I am sorry for the oversight!
      But I promise when I come to India, I am going to take a close look at the record-breaking judicial system.

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