Reforms of judicial systems in 18th-century Italy.
Concepts, methods, successes and failures of Bourbon, Habsburg and papal attempts to establish centralised judicial authority

PhD Project

My doctoral project examines how during the process of state-building, the sovereigns of the main Italian states of the 18th century attempted to incorporate courts more firmly into their sphere of rule. A key question is how the different states tried to integrate the various tribunals into the developing organisation of the modern state, i.e. to bring them under their authority according to the modern idea of sovereignty. In the early modern period, many courts were feudal, municipal, guild or religious institutions that derived their authority from a variety of sources that were often unconnected to the sovereign. My project’s starting point is the analysis of concrete reform projects, such as the founding of the Real Camera di Santa Chiara in the Kingdom of Naples in 1735 at the instigation of Charles III, which was intended to bring all judicial processes under royal supervision and to establish a centralised hierarchy of instances. Particular interest will be paid to the reasons why certain projects were not, or only partially, successful, i.e. where other authorities continued to exist. This continued legal plurality could take two forms: either old institutions resisted the reform attempts, or they continued within the new institutions. The question regarding the partial failure of the reforms of the judiciary is part of a more general research question on the typical forms of judicial independence and accountability.

Previous research in this field has shed light on the developments just described by focusing on the formal sources of law and using methods of legal interpretation. My study, by contrast, takes a more institutional approach, and will in particular address the questions of how new courts were set up, organised and financed, how judges were appointed, and how dissenting judges were sanctioned. For the selection and presentation of the material, the theory of historical institutionalism as developed, among others, by Robert D. Putnam is decisive. Importantly, this includes arranging the material in such a way that we also gain insights on present legal institutions, such as on the problems of justice particularly in Italy, and perhaps even more generally in areas ruled by the Spanish monarchy in the 18th century. At the same time, comparing different Italian territories (the Kingdom of Naples, Duchy of Milan, and Papal States) is intended to provide additional analytical depth. 

My main sources are, firstly, the reform plans, decrees and edicts of the various monarchs and governments that refer to courts and judges. A large part of these sources has been edited and is thus easily available, particularly for the Kingdom of Naples and the Duchy of Milan. Research for non-edited and additional sources will be carried our in the various state archives, especially the Archivio di Stato di Napoli, the Archivio di Stato di Milano and the Archivio di Stato di Roma.  Secondly, in order to analyse the reforms’ implementation, I will use court judgments as well as other documents, such as reports commissioned by governmental bodies to assess the reforms’ progress, academic or literary writings on the topic, or contemporary newspaper articles.

The overall aim of my doctoral project is, firstly, to offer a legal-historical perspective on the question of the democratic rule of law in formerly Spanish-dominated areas of Italy. Secondly, the work is intended to contribute to the debate on the tension between judicial independence and accountability from a legal historical perspective.

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