The Judiciary Offices in Vatican City The Judiciary Offices in Vatican City 

Pope revises Vatican penal legislation and judiciary system

With a new Apostolic Letter issued motu proprio, Pope Francis modifies the penal legislation and the judiciary system of Vatican City to simplify procedures and make the system more efficient, including provisions to clarify the functions of the Office of the Promoter of Justice.

By Salvatore Cernuzio 

In light of the "needs that have emerged over the last few years in the sector of the administration of justice" in the Vatican, Pope Francis has established several changes in the penal legislation and the judiciary system of the State of Vatican City, which will enter into force on 13 April 2023.

In a new Motu Proprio – Latin for “on his own initiative” - published on Wednesday, the Pope refers to the changes as "further adjustments" needed to address increasing issues that have emerged in recent years, with the subsequent "increasing workload" for the judiciary, which therefore require "a prompt and just” response in the procedural field. 

He was referring implicitly judicial proceedings currently taking place in Vatican City, and in particular to the “Vatican trial” on alleged mismanagement of the Holy See's funds, which began in 2021 and is still ongoing.

Simplifying procedures

The changes are aimed at simplifying the procedures and at improving the efficiency of the Vatican judiciary.

They include, amongst others, a clearer definition of the investigation and prosecution powers of the Office of the Promoter of Justice (the Vatican public prosecutor, ed.). They also envisage the possibility of adding a substitute to the College of three magistrates in the event that one of its members has to leave; the possibility for the Pope to appoint an additional president of the Vatican Tribunal in the event that the one in office is in the last year of his mandate, and, the abrogation of the requirement of the presence of at least one full-time judge in the Judicial Panel.

The latter provision had been introduced by the Law N° 351 reforming  the Vatican judicial system which the Pope promulgated on 16 March 2020.

Functions of the Promoter of Justice

The first paragraph of that Law is now replaced by the following text: “The Judicial power in the Vatican City State is exercised, in the name of the Supreme Pontiff, for the judging functions by the Court, by the Court of Appeal and by the Court of Cassation; for investigative and prosecutorial functions, by the Office of the Promoter of Justice."

Another provision introduced by today's Motu Proprio stipulates that "Magistrates are appointed by the Supreme Pontiff and in the exercise of their functions are subject only to the law". They "exercise their powers impartially, on the basis and within the limits of the competences established by law," the text continues.

Moreover, regarding the Promoter of Justice, the Apostolic Letter establishes that they can submit a "nonsuit request" to the Court when they believe that "the conditions for granting of a judicial pardon are met", or that the crime "can be considered of minor entity due to the conduct, the personality of the defendant, the damage caused to the offended person or the danger caused”, or in light of any act of reparation the defendant may have carried out.

Full-time rule for judges abolished

The Pope’s new Motu Proprio also abrogates Paragraph 2 of Article 6 of the Law351/2020, which required a full-time mandate for at least one of the ordinary magistrates of the Court who therefore was not allowed to have another employment  or to carry out freelance activities “of a continuous nature". As of now, all members of the Court will be able to take on other positions.


Another change concerns Paragraph 3 of the above mentioned Article 6 which stipulated that the Tribunal is a ”panel of three magistrates, designated by the President of the Tribunal, taking into account their professional skills and the nature of the proceeding."

The Motu Proprio published on Wednesday establishes that when designating magistrates the President of the Tribunal will also have to take into account the date of expiry of their mandate in light of the “the foreseeable duration of the trial."

"In compliance with the principle of immutability of the judge and to ensure the reasonable duration of the trial, the president can appoint a substitute member, who participates in the work of the college and can judge in cases of impediment or cessation of the functions of a magistrate."

Termination of office of the President

Finally, the Motu Propio brings changes to Article 10 concerning the termination of office of the President of the Vatican Tribunal.

The 2020 Law provided that at the conclusion of the judicial year in which they turn 75, ordinary magistrates are required to resign, with their resignation taking effect after the "acceptance by the Supreme Pontiff", who "may in any case order the permanence in office of ordinary magistrates beyond the limit referred to in the previous paragraph."

The Motu Proprio adds a new paragraph which establishes that the Pope "during the Judicial Year in which the President is required to resign, can appoint a Deputy President, who assists the President in the exercise of his functions" and performs "vicarious functions", presiding over "the panels in trials of a foreseeable duration of over one year" and "taking over the office at the time of termination of office the President."

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12 April 2023, 15:47