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Italy: New Legislation on Honorary Judges

(Sept. 28, 2017) On July 18, 2017, new legislation amending the statute on honorary judges and other judges entered into effect in Italy. (Legislative Decree No. 116 of July 13, 2017, Organic Reform of the Honorary Judiciary and Other Provisions on Justices of the Peace as well as Temporary Regulations on Honorary Magistrates in Service, Pursuant to Law No. 57 of April 28, 2016 (L.D. No. 116), GAZZETTA UFFICIALE (G.U.) (July 18, 2017) (in Italian).)

The new legislation amends the current statute on the Italian honorary judiciary, which includes “honorary justices of the peace” and “honorary vice-prosecutors.” (Id. art. 1(1)-(2).)  Law No. 57 of April 28, 2016, delegated power to the government for the organic reform of the honorary judiciary and for other provisions on justices of the peace.  (Law No. 57, G.U. (Apr. 29, 2016) (in Italian).)  Justices of the Peace review litigious matters affecting citizens at a set monetary level, usually lower than those submitted to regular, first instance courts.  (The Italian Law System: “Justice of the Peace,Picchi, Angelini & Associati Studio Legale website (last visited Sept. 21, 2017).)

The position of honorary magistrate is of a temporary nature, compatible with a person’s normal work or professional activities, and in no case implies the existence of a public employment relationship. (L.D. No. 116, art. 1(3).) Honorary magistrates may perform their services for no more than two days a week.  (Ιd.)  Before March 31 of each year, the Superior Council of the Magistrature must publish a list in the Official Gazette of the Italian Republic of the vacancies for honorary magistrates open for the next annual period.  (Id. art. 6(1).)

Creation of the Office of Collaboration with the Attorney General of the Republic

L.D. No. 116 creates the “Office of Collaboration with the Attorney General of the Republic.” (Id. art. 2(1).)  This Office is composed of honorary vice-prosecutors, defined as those honorary magistrates who collaborate with the Attorney General of the Republic (id. art. 1(1)-(2).), secretarial staff, and interns.  (Id. art. 2(2).)

Qualifications for Appointment as Honorary Magistrate

L.D. No. 116 sets forth the qualification requirements for a candidate for the office of honorary magistrate, which include Italian citizenship and age, professional ethics, experience, and academic criteria. (Id. art. 4(1).)  A person is considered unqualified if he or she occupies political, religious, or other specified professional positions.  (Id. art. 5(1).)  In particular, attorneys who appear before the courts where honorary magistrates exercise their functions are barred from being appointed as honorary magistrates.  (Id. art. 5(2).)  The age limit for honorary judges is 65 years.  (Id. art. 18(3).)

Terms of Office and Compensation of Honorary Magistrates

Appointment as an honorary magistrate last four years, which may be renewed for one additional four-year term. (Id. art. 18(1) & (2).)  Honorary magistrates are compensated at a fixed rate, plus a variable rate of compensation.  (Id. art. 23(1).)  Variable compensation ranges between 15% and 30% of the fixed compensation and depends on the fulfilment of objectives specified in the legislation.  (Id. art. 22(9).)

Honorary Justices of the Peace

Within six months from the date of entry into effect of the new law, the Ministries of Justice and of the Economy must establish rules for honorary justices of the peace. (Id. art. 3(1).)  The President of each tribunal coordinates the work of the justices of the peace, assigns their tasks, and supervises them.  (Id. art. 8(1).)

Honorary justices of the peace perform duties in both civil and criminal matters. (Id. art. 9(1).)  Their  assignment may be revoked based on the needs of the Office of the Justices of the Peace.  (Id. art. 10(9).)  Honorary justices of the peace may review and decide cases where the disputed amount does not exceed specified statutory limits.  (Id. art. 10(12).)

Honorary justices of the peace must recuse themselves in civil cases where there are familial relationships with a party, previous contacts with a party, or financial or other interests. (Id. art. 19(1).)  Other recusal grounds are also established for criminal matters.  (Id. art. 19(2).)  Honorary justices of the peace must participate in periodic meetings organized by the president of each tribunal to discuss the legal questions most relevant to the cases under consideration in their courts.  (Id. art. 22(1).)