On Tuesday, February 16, Pope Francis announced the new regulations and updates on the Vatican’s criminal justice system. The adjustments were made in light of the need to adapt to the changing times and establish humane penalties that are more inclined to the rehabilitation of offenders.
The new regulations, published in motu proprio Recante modifiche in materia di giustizia (“Introducing modifications in the area of justice”), include a reduction of sentences, the possibility of passing a program of community service and voluntary work, and suspension of trials in cases of legitimate impediment on the part of the defendant.
“The exigencies that have emerged in the field of criminal justice with the consequent repercussions on the activity of those who, in various capacities, are involved, require constant attention to reshape the current substantive and procedural legislation,” the Pope writes.
“In some respects, [the legislation] is affected by guiding principles and functional solutions that are now outdated.” (Read: 3 Times Lolo Kiko Proved He Was Serious About Fighting Corruption)
New Vatican Penal Code
The first article of the document makes changes to the penal code and establishes a reduction of 45 to 120 days for each year of a restrictive sentence already served for convicted offenders who, during the execution of their sentence, “have behaved in such a way as to presume their repentance and have profitably participated in the programme of treatment and rehabilitation.” (Read: 5 Religious People Who Were Detained in Their Fight for Human Rights)
When the sentence takes effect, the offender shall draw up, in agreement with the judge, “a treatment and rehabilitation programme containing an indication of the specific commitments he will undertake to avoid or mitigate the consequences of the offence, taking into account, to this end, compensation for damage, reparation, and restitution.”
Meanwhile, the second article amends a section of the Vatican Code: If the accused did not appear, the trial took place on the basis of the documentation provided, without the admission of testimony for the defense.
Now, with the changes imposed by Pope Francis, a defendant may refuse to attend a hearing and be represented by his defense counsel instead. If, on the other hand, the defendant does not appear at a hearing “due to a legitimate and serious impediment,” then the trial may be suspended. (Read: Meet 4 Celebrities Who Advocate for Civil Rights)
The third article amends and supplements law CCCLI of the judicial system of the Vatican City State. It stipulates that ordinary magistrates at the time of retirement shall retain “all rights, assistance, welfare, and guarantees provided” for Vatican citizens.
Speeding up Proceedings
Last, important changes were made in terms of the second and third instances of judgment. (Read: How Pope John Paul II Became A ‘Secret Activist’)
In the old penal code, it is stated that in the event of an appeal and then in cassation, the public prosecutor was to be represented by a different magistrate from the one who led the prosecution in the first trial, with an ad hoc appointment for second and third instance trials.
Now, the amended penal code tends to speed up proceedings since the functions of the public prosecutor will now be performed by a magistrate from the office of the promoter of justice, designated by the promoter himself. The panel of judges, meanwhile, will remain different.