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Spurious lawsuits. If libel were not just a gentle breeze…

Some thoughts on the GIP’s request to go to trial for such a crime the mayor of Verona, author of a lawsuit against Report of RAI

The request by the judge for the preliminary investigation to bring trial for the crime of slander and libel, the mayor of Verona, Flavio Tosi, over allegations he himself made against the journalist of Report, Sigfrido Ranucci, allegations made in a libel suit that was sent to the archives as it was considered unfounded, is of wider general interest for various reasons. First of all because it shows that current laws allow the courts to prosecute severely, if they so want, the authors of baseless, spurious, instrumental complaints.

Numerous complaints for libel, not all of course, contemplate the crime of slander for which Article 388 of the Criminal Code provides, in these circumstances, the sentence of two to six years in jail. Slander is a serious crime that prosecutors rarely pursue in office. Against the reckless plaintiff that is acting intentionally or in the knowledge that the journalist wrote the truth, the judge should more often refer the case to the public prosecutor in order to argue the crime of slander against the plaintiff, especially when slander is documented. This usually does not happen when instead it should be systematic, for reasons of justice, to punish and prevent an abuse that has become all too frequent in Italy against those journalists who are dealing with unwelcome news.

Many perpetrate such an abuse in order to intimidate and silence those who undertook on reporting hard facts of overriding public interest, and as such those who perform a function of public interest. The specious lawsuits not only hurt the journalist that is unjustly sued, but the whole social community. The social damage caused by these abuses is grave and obvious and yet these are widely tolerated and are not prosecuted according to the law as they should and could be.

Usually when facing a specious lawsuit, the courts limit themselves to sending it to the archives, and taking a long time to do it at that, thus allowing for the intimidating effect to be prolonged in time. Furthermore, the closure of these procedures does not always allow the defendant that is not guilty to recover the costs incurred to defend itselves against the accusations and prove to its innocence.

The abuses are repeated with the alarming frequency reported by the news and the analyses of Ossigeno per l’Informazione and confirmed by the important report of the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission on the state of information in Italy, approved unanimously by the House of Representatives on March 3, 2016. The time has therefore come to devote an even greater attention to these events, also with regard to other aspects hitherto neglected.

One concerns the behavior of those public officials who promote unjustified lawsuits spending public money. Seldom the Court of Auditors intervenes to demand the return of these sums, when it should be doing it as a norm. Can we talk about it?

Another overlooked aspect, even more delicate, concerns the behavior of the legals that professionally assist the promoters of complaints and clearly unfounded libel suits. The right of defense is sacred, no one wants to question it. But also the noble lawyer’s profession has a code of ethics. Does he who assists the promoter of a lawsuit or a complaint knowing that it is not based on clear and obvious reasons, or knowing (or being able to easily verify) that it is even based on false assumptions, comply with said code? And what happened to those who did not comply with this code? Even on this point, it seems to me, so far the public attention has not yet focused enough. I have no news of clarification interventions disciplinary comittees of the Bar. If it is my shortcoming, I am ready to acknowledge it. Can we talk about it serenly?

Third overlooked aspect: the stop to reckless lawsuits. Following the example of other countries, the Italian Parliament has been discussing for years, but so far without result, the proposal of introducing new rules in the codes, more effective, able to act as a deterrent against the rampant instrumental abuse of defamation charges. Ossigeno also has proposed some deterrents. All the time there is debate on this issue, even in Parliament, but nothing gets done. The opinion of those who believe that it is better to avoid introducing further legislation prevails. I disagree, but I respect those who think so, and I reply: then why do we not ask all together to apply in a non-episodic manner all the deterrents that I have listed, and all the others well-known and equally unapplied, which are already provided for in our legal system? Who is willing to talk about it?

ASP

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