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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Italy Must Carry Blame|If Courts Cause Harm

(CN) - Europe's high court has balked at an Italian law that safeguards the government from liability when an individual is harmed by a national court and limits state liability to cases of intentional fault or gross negligence.

The European Commission sued Italy over the legislation in 2010, claiming that Italy had failed to fulfill its obligations to protect EU citizens from infringements of EU law by national courts that interpret the law and issue decisions not open to appeal.

When an Italian court has breached EU law, a statute on compensation for damage caused in the exercise of judicial functions and the civil liability of judges excludes state liability for damage resulting from a court's interpretation of the law or assessment of the facts or evidence in a case.

The Court of Justice sided with the commission last week.

"Under EU law, a member state must make good damage caused to individuals as a result of infringements of EU law which are attributable to it, whichever state body is responsible for the damage; that principle applies also where the infringement has been committed by the judiciary," according to a statement from the Luxembourg-based court.

The five-judge panel, led by Presiding Judge M.K. Lenaerts, agreed that the Italian law enacted in April 1988 is incompatible with the EU principle of member states' liability.

State liability for damage resulting from breach of EU law is recognized if the infringed-upon law confers individual rights, if the infringement is sufficiently serious, and if there is a direct causal link between the breach of the obligation on the state and the damage sustained by the individual.

The commission sufficiently proved that the condition of "gross negligence," as interpreted by the Italian Court of Cassation, is more restrictive than the condition of a manifest and "sufficiently serious" breach of EU law, according to the order.

What's more, limiting state liability to cases of intentional fault or gross negligence in areas other than interpreting the law or assessing facts and evidence is also incompatible with EU law, the court ruled.

Italy failed to prove that its courts' interpretation of the law is consistent with the case-law of the European Court, according to the decision, which was published in French and Italian.

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