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Pope Francis wants independent and professional magistrates

In this interview, the President of the Vatican City State Tribunal, Giuseppe Pignatone, explains the new rules for the Vatican judicial system promulgated by Pope Francis.

By Vatican News

“One of the criteria inspiring the new law is the conviction that the independence of magistrates and their professional capacity are indispensable conditions for obtaining justice”.

This is how Giuseppe Pignatone, who has been the President of the Vatican City State Tribunal since last October, explains the new law released on Monday.

Q: What are the reasons that led to the promulgation of this new law?

Pope Francis emphasizes that new rules for the judicial system have become necessary due to the many important modifications made from 2000 on, and above all with the 2013 legislation regarding economic, financial, and criminal matters in Vatican City State. They are also a consequence of the Vatican’s adherence to numerous international conventions. Today, the Vatican judiciary is called upon to apply extremely modern legislation that is largely the result of globalization, but is rooted in legal codes dating back many decades. Above all, the interpretation and application of law must always respect the particularities of Vatican law which, as reiterated by Law no. LVVI of 1 October 2008 regarding the sources of law, “recognizes the canonical system as the primary normative source and the primary criterion of interpretation”.


Q: What principles inspire the new norms?

The Pope reiterates what he has said on other occasions, such as the recent opening of the judicial year; that is, that judicial authority must be inspired by the cardinal virtue of justice. To achieve this result, both the “personal, generous and responsible commitment” of magistrates and the presence of adequate institutions capable of ensuring efficiency and expediency are indispensable. One of the criteria inspiring the new law is the conviction that the independence of magistrates and their professional capacity are indispensable conditions for obtaining those results of justice indicated by Pope Francis in his premises.

Q: Can you summarize the most significant novelties of the new law?

It is explicitly stated that magistrates, although dependent hierarchically on the Supreme Pontiff who appoints them, are subject only to the law in the exercise of their functions and that they exercise their authority impartially. The judicial authority has direct jurisdiction over [its own proper] the judicial police force. Furthermore, specific and rigorous professional requirements are then indicated, with the provision that university professors (whether currently holding a teaching position or retired) and jurists of notable fame, may be appointed as judges of the first and second instance and, may make up part of the members of the Supreme Court (Corte di Cassazione).

Moreover, precisely in order to meet the various needs of Vatican judicial activity, even in such a small State, experience in the civil, criminal, and administrative fields is valued, on the one hand; while on the other, at least one of the magistrates of the first instance offices is required to be an expert in canonical and ecclesiastical law.

To guarantee the conditions of independence and efficiency, the organization of the administrative personnel is clearly defined, provision is made for the fiscal autonomy of the judicial offices, and, for cases of the first instance, there will be at least one full-time judge.

Another significant modification is the possibility that the President of the Supreme Court may add to the judicial bench - which is normally composed of three Cardinals - two other specified judges, appointed on the basis of the ordinary requirements indicated above, “whenever this is required due to the complexity of the case or to other reasons of expediency that may arise”.

Q: What is new for the prosecutor’s office?

For the first time, specific norms are laid out for the Office of the Promoter of Justice: in this way, the distinction between the presiding magistrate and the public prosecutor is clear, thus assuring that the latter is "autonomous and independent" in the exercise of his functions.

Q: How are the rights of defense guaranteed?

This is an aspect that needs to be highlighted. Attention to the right of defense emerges clearly in Article 26 of the new law, where it is defined as "inviolable in every state and level of the proceedings", consistent with the principles of due process and the presumption of innocence, already introduced in 2013 in the Code of Criminal Procedure (Article 350 bis). In this context, a detailed regulation of the registration requirements for advocates for the defence is foreseen.

16 March 2020, 16:56