search burger
search ×

When the Member of Parliament wants to play the investigator

The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic aspire to activate dozens of investigative commissions on a wide range of topics, including crimes and offenses that should, instead, fall under the purview of the judiciary.


There was a time when the Italian judicial system comprised three levels of judgment, two of merit and one of legitimacy. To summarize and simplify to the extreme: Trial Court, Court of Appeals, and Cassation. At the end of these three levels, an accused person could be found innocent, guilty (with various degrees and motivations), uncertain (when the statute of limitations is reached because too many years have passed since the incident), or dead (for the same reason as before). Then came the radiant '20s of the 11th century, and the Parliament, perhaps out of boredom, perhaps out of the need for protagonism, perhaps because otherwise no one pays attention to you on social media, decided that the two Chambers could easily become a Fourth level. The resemblance to a television show alone could qualify this choice.

Of course, a law wasn't passed to explicitly state that judicial power had been given to Parliament, as that would have raised conflicts with the Constitution and similar details. No. Special investigative commissions were created. OpenPolis explains that "Investigative commissions are regulated by Article 82 of the Italian Constitution and can be created ad hoc to conduct investigations and research on matters and topics of public interest, with the same powers and limitations as the judicial authority". During the current legislature, 64 bills have been presented for the establishment of investigative commissions, and the sheer number speaks to a rather inflated tool.

However, if these investigative commissions try to steal the spotlight from the judiciary by reopening cold cases or revisiting judgments that have already reached finality (i.e., reached the third level of judgment), then another pathology of Italian politics becomes apparent. It might be reasonable for Parliament to deal with supranational issues or those presumably involving foreign governments, such as the Ustica massacre. However, it is much less clear why deputies and/or senators should reopen decades-old murder cases, for which there may have already been a judgment that the public or individual representatives do not consider correct.

Visualizza questo post su Instagram

Un post condiviso da Lanfranco Palazzolo (@lanfranco_palazzolo)

If the need for justice and answers from the families of the victims is entirely understandable – something that has indeed happened thanks to the work of some Investigative Commissions – the short circuit between Parliament and the Judiciary is anomalous, even for the dynamic Italian institutional system. One wonders on what criteria one can decide which cases to reopen and to which victims to give belated justice. Also, on what basis and with what competence Members of Parliament can and want to reanalyze evidence, question witnesses, and order the analysis of findings.

According to the current serving parliamentary investigators, commissions should be established on: the murder of Piersanti Mattarella (1980), the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi (1983), political violence in the years between 1970 and 1989, the death of David Rossi (2013), the murder of Angelo Vassallo (2010), events at the 'Il Forteto' community (1978), the murder of Simonetta Cesaroni (1990), and the responsibilities for the accident that occurred in Freginals, Spain, on March 20, 2016, in which seven Italian students died.

Last but not least, a proposal is put forth for an investigative commission on the political use of justice: politics becomes a tribunal to investigate the political use of justice instead of reflecting on the judicial use of politics… In conclusion, the Legislative and Judicial branches are separate powers, and there is no reason to believe that where the second has failed, the first can succeed. Except in the pursuit of a truth that is more political than judicial, always playing on the unspoken premise that judges cannot solve cases while the Sherlock Holmes of Montecitorio can.



Illustration by Gloria Dozio - Acrimònia Studios