Pope Francis reforms Vatican City courts with new law

Vatican City, Mar 16, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The Holy See announced a new law governing the judicial system of the Vatican City state Monday. The motu proprio provides enhanced safeguards for the independence of judges and prosecutors in Vatican City to better address economic, financial and criminal cases in the sovereign territory.

Law CCCLI was signed by Pope Francis on Friday, March 13. 

“Administering justice,” the pope said in the preamble of the new law, “is not just a necessity of a temporal order.” 

“The cardinal virtue of justice, in fact, illuminates and summarizes the very purpose of the judicial power proper to each State, which is essential above all to cultivate the personal, generous, and responsible commitment of those who are vested with the judicial function,” Francis said.

In the legal text, the pope explained that the law is part of an ongoing process of legal renewal to replace the original 1929 laws of Vatican City, which began with the adoption of a new fundamental law for the city state in 2000.

Francis said the changes are aimed at adapting the Vatican courts to better enforce the law, and to ensure the city state’s compliance with international commitments.

“In the last decades, the Vatican legal system has undergone a season of regulatory reforms in economic, financial and criminal matters, also as a consequence of the adhesion to important international conventions,” the pope wrote, making the changes necessary to keep the wheels of justice turning in the Vatican.

“In continuity with this work of progressive legislative updating and institutional reorganization, I would now like to introduce some changes to the structure of the judiciary, aimed at increasing its efficiency,” he said.

The law provides for new measures to protect the independence of judges and prosecutors in the city state, making explicit that Vatican magistrates are, subject to the law, answerable to the pope directly and to no other office or authority.

Article 2 of the new law states that judges “are hierarchically dependent on the Supreme Pontiff” and “in the exercise of their functions, they are subject only to the law.”

The new norms also codify the ability of prosecutors to deploy the judicial police of the Vatican courts, and grants the law enforcement agency enhanced budgetary independence, explaining that they are not required to account for spending to any other body within the curia.

“The judicial authority has direct use of the judicial police, which it can also use for the notification activities,” the law says. “The judicial bodies enjoy autonomy of expenditure for their operation, on the basis and within the limits of the accounting provisions in force in the State. The relative charges are borne by the Governor's budget [of the Vatican City state].”

The judicial police, which are a separate section of the Vatican City Gendarmes, are under the direction of the Promoter of Justice, the courts’ chief prosecutor, who is to have two assistants, one of whom “carries out his duties on a full-time basis, without having subordinate employment relationships or carrying out freelance professional activities on an ongoing basis.

Judicial independence is further protected by article 8, which says that judges should be chosen from “tenured or retired university professors, and in any case from well-known jurists who have gained proven experience in judicial or forensic, civil, criminal or administrative matters.”

While recommendations for judicial appointments are still to be made by the Secretary of State, who has overall responsibility for the governance of Vatican City, the article prevents the appointment of curial civil servants to serve as judges, pointing out the necessary conflict of interest.

The pope’s reform, which repeals and replaces the 1987 Law CXIX of St. John Paul II, also underlines the supremacy of canon law in the Vatican’s civil legal system.

The new Law CCLI grounds Vatican City civil law in the Church’s canonical legal system, making the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the curia’s highest canonical appeals court, as the final court of cassation for the civil judicial system, charged with hearing appeals related to legal procedure and judicial competence.

Citing 2008 Vatican City state legislation issued by Pope Benedict XVI, which states that “the Vatican legal system recognizes in the canonical order the first normative source and the first criterion of interpretative reference,” Pope Francis said that canonical principles are essential to understanding and applying Vatican City laws.

“This is a founding and precious link that I hope can be increasingly explored by the judicial bodies of this state, in order to express its underlying potential and that the juridical norm puts to the work of the interpreter,” the pope wrote in the legislation’s preamble.

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