* Economy dragged down by snail-paced justice system
* Minister expects reforms to reduce bottlenecks
By Catherine Hornby
ROME, July 24 (Reuters) - Justice Minister Paola Severino expects reforms introduced by Italy’s technocrat government will cut the average length of a civil trial in half, helping tackle the judicial inefficiency that clogs the country’s chronically weak economy.
The reforms, which include a “filter” to cut the number of civil cases allowed to move to on the appeals level, and which set up specialist business tribunals, will bring the length of trials more in line with the European average, she said.
“European times are roughly about a year for each stage, and we want to take Italy to that level, thereby halving the times that are currently necessary,” Severino told a conference with foreign media on Tuesday. “We’ve calculated that the impact of these reforms should allow us to do that.”
Prolonged legal delays, such as in settling commercial disputes, are estimated to cost up to one percentage point in Italian GDP growth. Italy has been in recession since last year.
Severino has been on an international “road show” to convince foreign companies considering investing in Italy that Prime Minister Mario Monti’s government will speed up the snail-paced system of civil justice.
Italy’s lower house of parliament is due to hold a confidence vote on Wednesday on a package of measures which include the ‘filter’ on appeals - a key way of boosting efficiency, according to Severino.
“This is an important rule because it affects the bottleneck of Italian justice - the appeal, the longest phase,” she said.
It will mean, said Severino, that not all civil cases concluded in the court of first instance will need a second evaluation in an appeals court.
The legal reform package containing the measure is to receive final approval from the Senate by mid-August.
Studies by the World Bank show that it takes 1,210 days - or more than three years - to resolve a claim in an Italian court, compared with 394 days in Germany. The average costs paid by businesses in Italy usually amount to about 30 percent of the value of the dispute, compared with 17 percent in France.
In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Italy 53 times for violating the European Convention’s article protecting the right to a fair trial, and 44 of those condemnations were for the excessive length of proceedings.
Severino said she also wanted a reform to toughen up anti- corruption laws, currently making its way through parliament, to come into force before the government’s tenure ends next year.
She said it was important for countries to streamline graft laws at the international level to curb crimes such as fraud.
“Common international rules to prevent corruption are the real solution for the problem. We can’t have countries where some operations are allowed, and others where they aren‘t. We have to fight this together with the same instruments.”