Civil Justice and its Paradoxes: An Italian Perspective
In Italy there seems to be a sharp contrast between the law as it is written in the books and its operation in reality. Article 24 of the Italian Constitution (Costituzione) gives every citizen the right to take legal action in the courts to protect his or her rights and interests. Further, Article 24 requires the state to provide legal aid to those who cannot otherwise afford legal proceedings. Yet, the reality is very different from these declamations. In practice, whenever the provision of access to justice proves difficult, the state fails to take adequate measures to overcome the difficulties.
To begin with, one of the major obstacles to access to justice is a lack of information. In Italy few measures have been taken to overcome this problem. In certain other EC countries greater efforts have been made in this regard. For example, in France a law dated 10 July 1991 promotes the dissemination of information about citizens' rights and duties through the establishment of citizens' rights bureaux. Such bureaux not only offer information about rights, they also give advice about the most suitable means for individuals to protect their interests. Help is given with the making of applications and with simple transactions. Similarly, in the UK the Lord Chancellor's Department provides help with forms and brochures written in simple language, so as to enable citizens to conduct cases themselves in the small claims court.1
In Italy the lack of information is partially due to strong resistance from members of the legal profession, a powerful lobby, to sharing their forensic knowledge with members of the general public. The lack of information about the operation of the law has one inevitable consequence. Access to justice is only available through lawyers, even in those cases where citizens could potentially
This paper was initially translated into English by Marita Freddi and subsequently revised by Sue Gibbons, to both of whom the author is grateful.