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Italy: Reform of Statute of Limitations in Criminal Cases (“Bonafede Reform”) Takes Effect

(Feb. 21, 2020) On January 1 2020, article 1 of Law No. 3 of January 9, 2019 (Legge 9 gennaio 2019, n. 3) (Law No. 3)—named the “Bonafede reform” after Italian Minister of Justice Alfonso Bonafede—entered into force. The provision amends article 159, paragraph 2 of the Criminal Code to introduce a controversial suspension of the statute of limitations after a criminal decision of first instance, whether an acquittal or conviction. The reform applies to crimes committed after January 1, 2020, which is the date the reform entered into force.

The Bonafede reform revises article 159, paragraph 2, of the Criminal Code to read as follows: “The course of the statute of limitations also remains suspended upon the issuance of the sentence of first instance or the conviction decree until the enforcement date of the sentence that concludes the case or the irrevocability of the conviction sentence.” Under the reform, the statute of limitations period for consummated crimes continues to run “from the day of consummation,” while for attempted crimes “from the day on which the offender’s activity ceased.”

Under the new rules, in the case of “continued” offenses (multiple actions and omissions carried out by the same person in execution of a criminal design), the statute of limitation commences from the day when the continuation ceased, while previously it started from the day on which the single illegal act ended.

Reactions to the Bonadefe Reform

In the wake of the Bonafede reform, the president of the Italian Supreme Court (Corte di Cassazione), while speaking at the recent inauguration ceremony of the judicial year 2020—which was attended by the highest political authorities of the country—praised the measures included in the reform that are aimed at accelerating criminal procedures. The president mentioned that, under the reform, concrete measures have been adopted, not only at the stage of the process following the first instance (which is no longer covered by the statute of limitations), but also in the investigative and preliminary hearing stages preceding the first instance. The President also alluded to the dire state of the judicial backlogs in Italy and that the Bonafede reform will likely cause an annual increase of between 20,000 and 25,000 new cases annually for the Court of Cassation. The Court already reviews about 50,000 criminal cases every year.

Additionally, the Bonafede reform contains multiple aspects that are generating polemics in legal and judicial spheres in Italy. For example, the reform establishes disciplinary penalties for those who do not respect “the reasonable length of the process,” a phrase that has been criticized as far too indeterminate. Given this context, the adoption of amendments to the Bonafede reform would not be surprising.