'Slow Erosion' of Legal Rights Challenges Women in Italy

By Lara Santoro, | The Christian Science Monitor, October 30, 1996 | Go to article overview

'Slow Erosion' of Legal Rights Challenges Women in Italy


Lara Santoro,, The Christian Science Monitor


Two highly controversial rulings by the Italian Court of Cassation, one of the two highest judicial bodies in Italy, appear to have set women's rights back a step or two. In the process they have sparked anger and public debate from Italian women's rights groups.

In the first case, in mid-September, the court overruled a jail sentence against Francesco Lombardo, a construction worker convicted of having beat his wife so severely four years ago that she was admitted into intensive care. She remained in the hospital for 10 days.

Anna Mannino, his wife and a mother of four, refused to prosecute, saying the violent beating had been an isolated incident. But the public prosecutor in Palermo, Sicily, pressed charges. Prosecution in spousal abuse cases is mandatory whenever the recommended hospital stay exceeds seven days. Mr. Lombardo was tried, convicted, and sentenced to eight months in prison. Two years later, an appeals court in Palermo sustained the ruling saying the injuries inflicted had been too severe to consider anything less than eight months imprisonment. But in an extraordinary twist that appeared to surprise Lombardo himself - let alone women and legal experts across the country - the Court of Cassation argued there was no evidence Lombardo had beat his wife "systematically" in a "generally abusive context." Unintentional abuse excused The court's argument was a fairly simple one: Lombardo had lost control in a fight "provoked uniquely by jealousy," never intending to deliberately mistreat his wife. Considering the otherwise "peaceful" domestic existence led by the two, the court concluded the case was not one of "deliberate mistreatment." Ms. Mannino was the first one to rejoice. Before unplugging her phone and shying away from further media scrutiny, she told the Rome-based daily La Repubblica that her requests to testify at both trials in favor of her husband had been turned down. "We had a fight," she said in the interview, "We were both nervous and he just lost it.... It doesn't matter, these things happen." The consequences of the ruling, however, are far reaching. Although Italian law, unlike Anglo-Saxon law, is not governed by precedent, in practice a ruling by the Court of Cassation bears tremendous weight on future deliberations. …

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