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Italy’s justice referendum is a non-starter

There was an insufficient turn out at the polls on Sunday for the five questions on judicial power to even come under consideration. According to an estimate by the Opinio Italia consortium for the state TV broadcaster Rai, between 19 and 23% of those eligible participated in the vote on five referendum questions submitted by nine centre-right regional councils. This was nowhere near the required quorum of 50%+1 for the referendum to be valid.

The 2022 EU Justice Scoreboard revealed that the Italian justice system is one of the slowest in Europe. As effective judicial systems contribute to the appropriate application of EU law, Brussels has been pushing Italy to introduce judicial reform.

The Italian parliament has thus far not responded to the most important issues in the organisation of justice and criminal law.

One of the referendum questions presented the possibility of abolishing the so-called ‘Severino bill’, which prevents public figures or citizens who have been convicted of serious crimes from being able to stand in European, national and regional elections for six years.

Silvio Berlusconi, who was forced to quit the Senate in 2013 due to the aforementioned law following a conviction over tax fraud, commented on Sunday once it was clear that the turnout was too low.

“We could have taken a step forward with this referendum”, the former prime minister and leader of the Italian right party Forza Italia (EPP) told reporters. He also insinuated that justice is politicised and the voting had been “boycotted”.

Advocates of the referendum, including Matteo Salvini, Federal Secretary of the Lega Nord party, have stated that it has been hamstrung by poor communication at all levels. Lega Nord accused the Italian media of not giving enough space to the debate and not providing background and context for voting yes or no to the five questions on justice reform.

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