Crime and Court news / History of Italy

The Italian Constitutional Court

Mussolini was appointed Prime Minister of Italy in 1922. After that, he quickly turned the country into a personal dictatorship, relegating into obscurity the same King who had appointed him. And yet, in 1922 Italy already had a Constitution. It was called “the Statute”. King Albert had been forced to “concede” it after the 1848 troubles.

The Statute ensured the separation of powers and the respect of the citizens’ basic rights… but could be overruled by the Parliament. That’s why Mussolini was able to simply ignore it, since he controlled the Parliament. And that’s why, after the fall of fascism and the end of the war, the Constituent Assembly resolved to establish a Constitutional Court with the power to annul the laws contrary to the Constitution.

The Communist Party was against the establishment of the Court, since it was contrary to the socialist legal doctrine and because it hoped to win the general election in a landslide, thus gaining absolute control of the country. Therefore while the Court was established, the Party obtained that its regulation was deferred to a successive Constitutional Law that it hoped would never be enacted.

Then the Party lost the elections and the Court was put in place. It is composed by 15 judges. Of these, 5 are appointed by the President, on his own initiative rather than with the advice and consent of the Government. 5 are elected by the Parliament with a reinforced majority, forcing the Government to find an agreement with the opposition. 5 are elected by the highest judicial Courts.

Cases are sent to the Court by ordinary judges, by the Government or by Regional Governments. Thus a common citizen cannot recur to the Court directly. The Court has the power to annul entire laws or – more frequently – specific provisions. By theory, the Court can’t add any new provision to a law, although in practice it can do that via an “addictive judgement”.

The Court also has jurisdiction over constitutional controversies between different “State powers” and criminal jurisdiction over Presidents impeached by the Parliament for “high treason or conspiracy against the Constitution”.

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