The Vatican Tribunal as a model of efficiency

The Vatican’s Judicial Year begins, with Cardinal Bertone and the Italian Minister of Justice Paola Severino attending the opening ceremony
by Alessandro Speciale | Source:

The Tribunal of the Vatican City has a heavy workload with 640 civil cases and 226 penal cases, despite the Vatican being the smallest country in the world, with a population of just 492 people. The judicial system so far has worked well, but it could crumble in the not so distant future.


This warning comes from the report presented during the opening ceremony of the Vatican’s Judicial Year by the Promoter of Justice, the chief prosecutor of the Vatican Tribunal, Nicola Picardi.


The Judicial year of the Vatican Tribunal opened with a ceremony attended by the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and the Italian Minister of Justice, Paola Severino. Other authorities present at the event were the President of the Constitutional Court of Italy, the President of the Italian National Association of Magistrates, Luca Palamara, Giovanni Conso, Giovanni Maria Flick, Piero Alberto Capotosti and the President of the Governorate of Vatican City State, Mgr. Giuseppe Bertello.


The large number of lawsuits in the Vatican may seem surprising, however it is not so much that the citizens and the residents of the Vatican are particularly 'belligerent'. It is the fact that about 18 million pilgrims and tourists pass through the Vatican, every year, especially St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums. In fact the majority of crimes committed in the Vatican are muggings and other kinds of theft, all at the expense of those visiting the smallest country in the world.

According to Picardi, even though the workload is heavy, the judicial system of the Vatican is a ‘fairly balanced and efficient machine,’ which is also ‘quick and harmonious’ and it manages with just a few members of staff to be very ‘productive.’


This is confirmed by the average length of the proceedings, which are much shorter than in Italy. The penal cases last on average 18.8 days with preliminary investigations lasting 270 days. Civil cases last on average 13 days. However, the Promoter of Justice warned that this length could grow out of all proportion and could even last years, should the proceedings become more complicated; especially since an enclave like the Vatican has to conduct all surveys and preliminary investigations in collaboration with other countries.


The results have been good so far, but they must not outshine the risks connected to the expanding jurisdiction of the Vatican’s legal system in recent years. First there was the introduction of employment lawsuits for those working for the Vatican and its companies, then the new financial and economic lawsuits linked to the new regulations against money laundering in the Vatican introduced last year -and this is where the risk of lengthy proceedings mainly lies.


With the addition of these new and extensive fields of competence, the Promoter of Justice has emphasized his worry that ‘these laudable novelties may seriously compromise the efficiency of the tribunal.’ Picardi explained that The Vatican Tribunal has penal jurisdiction in financial and economic matters not just for acts and activities concerning Vatican people or agencies, but also for all matters concerning the ministries of the Roman Curia and all the organizations and institutions under the authority of the Holy See. Basically the tribunal ends up ‘having jurisdictional authority beyond the Vatican City State’ and as a result, to fulfil these new tasks, ‘it will be necessary to increase staff accordingly.’


In any case, according to the Promoter of Justice, thanks to the expansion of its judicial system, the Vatican City State is increasingly becoming a country with the ‘Rule of law’, meaning a country in which the law reigns supreme.


Picardi said: “Starting from its origins as a State of assets and liabilities to being a theocratic or hierocratic State, the Vatican then became a State-apparatus, which by definition means self governed.” “ Today,” - he added - “ by its progressive auto-limitation , that is to say by putting itself under the scrutiny of its own law, the Vatican has finally turned from State-apparatus into a State with the Rule of Law.”

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