The discreet charm of judges. Falcone’s philosophy, 25 year after

May 23, 2017
Editorial Open Society
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Giovanni Falcone was a creature of habit. During the years he spent in Rome, working with the Italian Ministry of Justice, one of his preferred habits was to travel to Palermo during the weekend. On May 23, 1992, Falcone was driving his car on the A29 coastal motorway from Punta Raisi airport (now named after him and his colleague Paolo Borsellino), when Giovanni Brusca detonated half a ton of explosives placed in a culvert under the motorway, killing the judge, his wife Francesca Morvillo, and police officers Rocco Dicillo, Antonio Montinaro and Vito Schifani.

In the early 1980s, with Rocco Chinnici, Falcone invented a new way of working. Prosecuting magistrates should join in a team, called ‘a pool’. The official reason for this was to share, and to keep secret, information during complicate investigations on Mafia’s national and international connections. An unofficial reason was to allow the continuation of the investigating work even if one of the magistrates was murdered.

Another famous magistrates’ pool in Italy’s political life was the Milan pool – the so-called anti-bribe troika – of A. Di Pietro, G. Colombo, and P. Davigo, coordinated by G. D’Ambrosio, and led by F.S. Borrelli. They acted in a series of trials against corruptions in politics, now famously known as Mani Pulite (Clean hands), which also started in 1992. For many Italian and foreign observers, Falcone’s death (later followed by P. Borsellino’s assassination), and Mani pulite are a turning point in the Italian political history – the starting of the so-called Second Republic.

Falcone’s death, however, contributed to shape a specific generational mind-set. The cohort of Italians who started their adult life in the 1990s share a positive bias for judges and magistrates. After many years of controversies, failures, miscarriages of justice and procedural abuses, judges remain for many Italians the symbol of the only possible defense against political abuses and immoral behaviors in politics.

Falcone rejected a political approach to the fight against Mafia. Indeed, he clearly claimed that prosecutions and trials should focus on the legal aspects of misbehavior and offense, leaving out of the picture any political or moral repercussion. This does not equal to a profession of agnosticism on moral and political matters, but it is instead the logical implication of Falcone’s acute awareness of the necessity of a division of powers within a Liberal-democratic regime.

Once Falcone became a symbol, this carefully balanced view has been overlooked by many, and only a generic positive bias towards judges remained. In remembering his sacrifice, and the most recent history of Italian mentality, it may be worthwhile to go back to Falcone’s deepest philosophical intuitions about the rule of law and the role of the magistracy.

A longer version of Gianfranco Pelegrino’s thoughts on such topics can be found in an extract from his book Etica pubblica (“Public Ethics”): «Etica pubblica e caso italiano: fra politica e antipolitica» (“Public ethics and the Italian case: Between politics and anti-politics. “).

Etica pubblica