Libel. 100.000 € damages for quoting from judicial records

Sued by a magistrate, journalists Lirio Abbate and the publisher L’Espresso were found guilty. The opinion of the lawyer Di Pietro: an evidential burden has been imposed.

The journalist Lirio Abbate, deputy editor of the weekly L’Espressowas sentenced by the civil court of Rome to compensate a Roman magistrate, now retired, and an expert of the same court, with the sum of 100 thousand euro for damage to reputation caused by an article signed by Abbate and  published in the weekly on January 23rd 2014.

With Abbate, the then chief editor Bruno Manfellotto and the L’Espressopublishing group were jointly condemned. Group lawyers, Virginia Ripa di Meana and Vanessa Giovannetti, have appealed and the first hearing is scheduled for 2022.

The action was initiated  by the magistrate Giovanni Deodato and the consultant Antonio Staffa. The Abbate article concerned the activity of the Bankruptcy Section and bore this title: “You fail, we steal”. The journalistic investigation, in particular, reported the statements made to the investigating magistrates by Dr. Chiara Schettini (a former magistrate of the Bankruptcy Court of Rome, under investigation and later indicted by the Court of Perugia for embezzlement, forgery, corruption and threats). Those statements, recorded in the minutes by the Umbrian magistrates, called in question, among others, Deodato and Staffa.

The journalist reported in the article the statements made by the “repenting” magistrate regarding one of the most delicate activities of a civil court. According to the judgement  , before publishing them Abbate should have checked the veracity of the “confessions” of the magistrate.

COMMENT – On this point (truth of the fact, control of the sources, duties of the journalist) Ossigeno asked for a comment from the lawyer Andrea Di Pietro, coordinator of the Legal Aid Office of Ossigeno per l’Informazione.

“The judgement in which the deputy director of L’Espresso, Lirio Abbate, was sentenced, together with the chief editor and  the publisher, to pay damages of € 100,000 to a magistrate and a technical consultant of the Bankruptcy Section of the Court of Rome is frankly bewildering. There is no doubt that the motivation of the judgement represents a serious setback with respect to the standards displayed by the last jurisprudential approaches of the Court of Cassation and above all by the European Court of Human Rights in the matter of legal affairs reporting and imputed truth, with respect to official state records. In essence, the provision imposes an evidential burden upon  the journalist,that is, the burden of proving that the statements of a suspect, made in the context of a criminal proceedings and recorded in a report which, as should be known, is authentic until proven otherwise are true. In other words: the journalist should do the job of magistrate and judge. It is difficult to understand, after this ruling, how a journalist should behave when he comes into possession of a record of an investigation. According to the principle expressed in the sentencing of Abbate, he should essentially refrain from telling the facts, given that he will never know in advance if those statements will be confirmed by the subsequent trial findings. According to this approach, therefore, only sentences that have become final can be reported ”. GFM

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