Pope Francis Issues Motu Proprio Updating the Vatican Legal Code - FULL TEXT

Vatican News reports that Pope Francis has issued a new motu proprio entitled: Recante modifiche in materia di giustizia (“Introducing modifications in the area of justice”). It was published on Tuesday, February 16, 2021, and provides for reduction of sentences, the possibility of agreeing on a programme of community service and voluntary work, and suspension of trials in cases of legitimate impediment on the part of the defendant. 
The new regulations update the criminal justice system of Vatican state and remodels norms in order to respond to the needs of the times and establishes procedures for penalties aimed at the rehabilitation of offenders.  
 “The exigencies that have emerged, even recently, in the field of criminal justice,” Pope Francis writes, “with the consequent repercussions on the activity of those who, in various capacities, are involved, require constant attention to reshape the current substantive and procedural legislation that, in some respects, is affected by guiding principles and functional solutions that are now outdated.” For these reasons, the Pope has published three new articles of the law, “continuing the process of the ongoing revision dictated by the changing sensibilities of the times.”

The first article makes changes to the penal code and establishes a reduction of 45 to 120 days for each year of a restrictive sentence already served for convicted offenders who, during the execution of their sentence, “have behaved in such a way as to presume their repentance and have profitably participated in the programme of treatment and rehabilitation.” When the sentence takes effect, the offender shall draw up, in agreement with the judge, “a treatment and rehabilitation programme containing an indication of the specific commitments he will undertake to avoid or mitigate the consequences of the offence, taking into account, to this end, compensation for damage, reparation and restitution.” The convicted person may propose “the performance of work in the public interest, or voluntary activities of social importance; as well as conduct aimed at promoting, where possible, mediation with the offended person.” Previous legislation did not provide for any of these initiatives.

The second article amends the code for penal procedures, maintaining safeguards, while abolishing the so-called “processo in contumacia,” [a particular form of trial in absentia] which was still present in the Vatican Code: if the accused did not appear, the trial took place on the basis of the documentation provided, without the admission of testimony for the defence. Now, however, if the defendant refuses to attend the hearing without a legitimate impediment being demonstrated, the normal trial will proceed, with the defendant being represented by his defence counsel. If, on the other hand, the defendant does not appear at the hearing and it is proved that he is unable to appear “due to a legitimate and serious impediment, or if due to insanity he is unable to provide for his defence,” the tribunal or the single judge is required to suspend the trial.

The third article amends and supplements law CCCLI of the judicial system of the Vatican City State. It stipulates that ordinary magistrates at the time of retirement shall retain “all rights, assistance, welfare and guarantees provided” for Vatican citizens. A paragraph underlines that “the office of the promoter of justice shall exercise autonomously and independently, in the three levels of judgement, the functions of the public prosecutor and the other functions assigned to him by law.”

Finally, an important amendment concerns the second and third instance of judgment. Until now, in the event of an appeal and then in cassation, the public prosecutor was to be represented by a different magistrate from the one who led the prosecution in the first trial, with an ad hoc appointment for second and third instance trials. Now, instead, two different articles stipulate that in appeal and cassation proceedings, as is already the case in the first instance, the functions of the public prosecutor are to be performed by a magistrate from the office of the promoter of justice, designated by the promoter himself. The panel of judges will obviously remain different. This legislation tends to speed up proceedings, since from now on it will be the same office that sustained the public prosecution in the first instance that will also sustain it in any other levels of judgement.

Follow the link to find the full Italian text of the motu proprio Recante modifiche in material di giustizia.

FULL TEXT release from Vatican News