A record for a defamation case: 24 years to end the trial

The Supreme Court has punished for reckless litigation those who kept two journalists in limbo and abused the trial process by diverting resources away from the protection of rights.

The trial for defamation against the journalists of La Nazione, Roberto Di Meo and Roberto Canè, cited for damages for an article published in its Terni edition began in 1994 and ended in 2018. The duration of this trial represents a real record of disproportionate length: 24 years, in spite of all the nominal terms of prescription. Definitely much too long, also in the view of the Supreme Court which has, therefore, asked for the creation of new tools to deter abuses of the trial process. A saga which merits a reconstruction.

Gabriele Cané entered the trial as the chief editor at the time. In his 1994 article, Roberto Di Meo reported that the Italian Republican Party was involved in the so-called “Tangentopoli di Terni” a confluence of bribes in the town of Terni.
In a small panel next to the article, the judicial searches carried out during those years at the headquarters of the political parties were summarized, erroneously including a search of the Italian Republican Party. In fact, as was made clear in the course of the trials, the PRI (Partito Repubblicano Italiano) had been confused with the PLI (Partito Liberale Italiano).

Roberto Di Meo explained to Ossigeno that there was no intention of damaging the PRI. “In the diagram – he explains – it was written, entirely by mistake that the headquarters of the PRI had also been searched, while in reality it was the PLI”.

The two journalists were sued by the administrators of the Republican Party and sentenced in first instance to pay a fine of one million lire and a provision amount of 5 million lire of damages.

When the criminal case ended, the PRI and its administrators began a lawsuit for damages, which was definitively concluded only a few months ago, on the 18th July 2018, when the third civil section of the Supreme Court declared the appeal inadmissible. Fabio Vallorini, one of the former directors of the PRI continued the dispute all the way up to the Supreme Court and was condemned by the Court for reckless litigation and for “abuse of the trial process”. Vallorini will now have to pay ten thousand euros for reckless litigation and 8200 euros for legal costs.

Fabio Vallorini had already appealed against the ruling of the first degree with which the Civil Court had ruled that the only injured party “must be considered to be the PRI” and he continued his battle up to the Supreme Court which in addition to rejecting his appeal has censured his behavior with a ruling that marks a more severe attitude towards those who exploit the machinery of justice to defend their personal interest without reasonable grounds.

In the judgment/pronouncement of 18th July last, the Court above all ruled that the former administrator of the PRI had acted improperly in pursuing the case for a judgment of merit and not of legitimacy as it is not within the Court’s competence.
Moreover, the Supreme Court has inferred that the
behaviour of those who resort to the Court without foundation constitutes “an abuse of the trial procedure”. As a result, he condemned the plaintiff for reckless litigation, as envisaged by Article 96 of the Code of Civil Procedure. The plaintiff should be punished, according to the judgement, even if he acted without fraud or serious fault.

Finally, the judges of the third section underlined the need to create “deterrents with respect to proposed actions which lack procedural rules or contain serious errors of law. In this context, this Court intends to enhance the penalties for abuse of the judicial process precisely in order to avoid the dispersion of resources for the judicial process and to allow access to judicial protection for deserving subjects and for violated rights “.

Read the comment of barrister Andrea Di Pietro

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