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Italy: Measures to Decrease Backlogs in Civil Proceedings

(Oct. 3, 2014) Recently adopted legislation in Italy seeks to clear the country’s considerable backlog of civil cases through a series of measures in the areas of attorney-client relationships, civil actions, family law proceedings, arbitration proceedings, summary proceedings, enforcement procedures, and the transfer of judges throughout the country. (Decree-Law No. 132, of September 12, 2014 (D.L. 132), Urgent Measures for the Removal of Cases from Judicial Jurisdiction and Other Interventions for Resolving the Backlog in Civil Proceedings [in Italian], art. 2, GAZETTA UFFICIALE [G.U.] No. 212 (Sept. 13, 2014).)

Pre-Judicial Negotiations

D.L. 132 fosters pre-judicial negotiations between parties, so that they may resolve their disputes amicably and avoid civil litigation. Parties must be assisted by an attorney during negotiation procedures. (Id. art. 2(1).) Before prospective plaintiffs may bring civil actions for the compensation of damages arising from motor vehicle and boat accidents, or cases for damages over €50,000 (about US$64,000), they must invite the prospective defendants – through their lawyers – to enter into assisted negotiation agreements. (Id. art. 3(1).)

A plaintiff’s failure to comply with this requirement may subject the lawsuit to dismissal, if such failure is raised by the defendant or the judge no later than the first hearing. (Id.) Certain proceedings, such as those involving injunctive relief, debt enforcement, or civil actions pursued in connection with criminal proceedings, are exempted from the requirement. (Id. art. 3(3).) Settlement agreements reached by the parties after assisted negotiation procedures are enforceable and must be subject to a registered judicial mortgage (ipoteca giudiziale), a type of lien generated by the registration of a judicial decision that orders the payment of a sum of money. (Id. art. 5(1) & art. 2818; Codice Civile [Civil Code], ALTALEX (last visited Sept. 26, 2014).)

Family Law Proceedings

D.L. 132 also contains provisions aimed at expediting family law proceedings. For example, an assisted negotiation agreement reached between spouses for a consensual separation, the termination of the civil effects of their marriage, or the dissolution of their marriage may now be used to change the conditions of separation or divorce. (D.L. 132, arts. 6(1) & 12(1).) This alternative is not available when minor children or certain adult dependents are involved. (Id. arts. 6(2) & 12(2).) Each party must submit to the civil registry officer a personal statement indicating the decision to separate, to terminate the civil effects of the marriage, or to obtain its dissolution according to the terms agreed between them. (Id. art. 12(3).) Such agreements may not contain accords for the transference of patrimony. (Id.) The agreement reached by the parties is entered as a court order. (Id. art. 6.3.)

Arbitration Proceedings

Several provisions of D.L. 132 refer to arbitration proceedings. Arbitrators must be neutral, and parties’ attorneys may not be appointed as arbitrators in controversies dealing with the same or related issues that they had handled as part of a regular judicial procedure. There are also confidentiality requirements with which attorneys must comply. (Id. art. 9(1).) Statements made and information received during proceedings may not be used in judicial proceedings concerning the same or part of the same object. (Id. art. 9(2).) The parties’ representatives and others involved in the process may not be required to testify about the contents of the statements made and the information acquired during the proceedings. (Id. art. 9(3).)

Additional Provisions

D.L. 132 adds a provision to the Code of Civil Procedure concerning the transformation of ordinary into summary proceedings. (D.L. 132, art. 14(1), adding art. 183-bis to the Codice di procedura civile [Code of Civil Procedure], ALTALEX.) At a hearing, a judge may order that the parties indicate the evidentiary means they will use in the case and set up a new hearing to take place within 15 days, for the identification of their respective evidentiary means and the production of documents; an additional hearing may be set within another ten days for the submission of contradictory evidence.

D.L. 132 also amends article 518, paragraph 6, of the Code of Civil Procedure on the registration of enforcement proceedings for expropriation by charging bailiffs with the duty to promptly deliver enforcement documents to the creditor for further collection of the debt. (Id. art. 18(1)(a).) In addition, new reforms aimed at the digitization of individual and bankruptcy enforcement procedures are included. (Id. art. 20). D.L. 132 also grants new powers to the Supreme Judicial Council to transfer judges from one court to another in certain circumstances. (Id. art. 21.)