European Federation of Journalists

Italy: New amendment aims to prohibit publication of pre-trial detention orders

Senate, Rome. Credits: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

The Italian Chamber of Deputies approved on 11 December an amendment to article 114 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Codice di Procedura Penale) on the publication of judicial documents. If the amendment is passed by the Senate, journalists would not have the right to publish extracts or full pre-trial detention orders until after the proceedings (including the reasons behind the pre-trial detention, and the precautionary measures – restrictions on movements, house arrests or imprisonment). 

This amendment is not a requirement in the EU legislation, which limits itself to the obligation to recognising the presumption of innocence until, and if, the suspect is declared guilty. Article 4, part 3 of the same directive stipulates that the presumption of innocence “does not prevent public authorities from disclosing information on criminal proceedings, if this is necessary for reasons connected to the criminal investigation or for the public interest”.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its affiliate the Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana (FNSI) in regarding that as an attempt to muzzle freedom of the press and the right to information for citizens. We are backing the union in asking President Sergio Mattarella not to sign the law.

“It’s a matter of a liberty-restricting measure not only concerning Article 21 of the Constitution but also individual freedoms. It’s extremely dangerous when the motivation for whether a person is arrested or not is not known. And it’s not just dangerous for press freedom; it’s also perilous for the person subjected to the precautionary custody measure in prison,” Alessandra Costante, General Secretary of the FNSI, said. 

The Chamber of Deputies argues that the amendment protects trials from bias. 

“Today’s vote has no justification whatsoever, except to muzzle the right of citizens to be informed: they no longer have the right to know that a judge has ordered precautionary measures against suspects. A deadly tightening for the right to news coverage,” posted President of the FNSI Vittorio Di Trapani on his Twitter account. 

The amendment was passed with 160 votes in favour, 70 against and 170 abstentions.

At the time of writing, pre-trial detention orders are amongst the few judicial documents that can be published in the media before the end of the investigations.