Rosario Livatino: Magistrate without adjectives

Rosario Livatino, killed by the Stidda on September 21, 1990 on the on the road SS 640 Caltanissetta-Agrigento, declared blessed on May 9, 2021. Referred to as a “holy judge”, or “boy judge”, Livatino was a judge without adjectives, not even that of antimafia. Working scrupulously on his territory, he had understood the mechanisms of the Mafia and not only. He had understood the seriousness of corruption, of false invoicing, of the business that brought a small Sicilian town like Canicattì with 40 thousand inhabitants to have several bank branches and main offices. We discuss this with Alfredo Mantovano, Councillor of the Supreme Court of Cassation, Vice-President of the Centro Studi Rosario Livatino who, with Domenico Airoma Public Prosecutor of Avellino and Mauro Ronco Professor Emeritus of Criminal Law, President of the Centro Studi Rosario Livatino, wrote the book “Un giudice come Dio comanda“. 

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What does the beatification of Judge Livatino represent for the judiciary, for civil society and for those who every day try to change the destiny of territories suffocated by the mafia and corruption?

First as a public prosecutor, then – in the last year of his life – as a member of a Judicial College, Rosario Livatino has investigated and pronounced judgments against the mafia members of the territory, including those who lived a few meters from his house, and has ordered the seizure and confiscation of their property. He did this in a Court that, at the time, had five uncovered posts out of eleven, with limited material means, without personal protection, applying the few scarce norms of repression, at the time, of mafia criminality. It could not benefit from the propalations of the “pentiti”, nor could it count on a compulsory coordination of investigations, because the laws that introduced the one and the other had not yet been passed, nor on consistent units of judicial police; the social context in which it lived was hostile and characterised by a conspiracy of silence, certainly not one of collaboration with the judicial institutions.

Despite these (and other) profound differences from the current context, Livatino has embodied a model of magistrate who does not seek shortcuts. Each of his measures reveals a dedication to the reconstruction of the fact, deepening of the law, so accurate as to allow the most correct application of the rule to the concrete case from time to time submitted to him, repudiation of editorial techniques from “copy and paste”, strict respect for the guarantees of the accused and the prerogatives of the defender. If he were in service today – the date of his birth would have allowed him to remain so for another year and a half, on the one hand, he would be alien to chats such as those animated by not a few magistrates, whose content has been poured into the pages of the newspapers, on the other hand, he would oppose the sacrifice of justice on the altar of ideology or alleged ethical supremacy.

It is what he said in the conference The role of the judge in a changing society, which he held at the invitation of the Rotary Club of Canicattì, on April 7, 1984: “The independence of the judge is not only in his conscience, in his incessant moral freedom, in his fidelity to principles, in his capacity for sacrifice (…) but also in his morality, in the transparency of his conduct even outside the walls of his office, in the normality of his relationships and his manifestations in social life, in the choice of his friendships, in his unavailability to initiatives and business, all that is allowed but risky, in the renouncement to any desire for assignments and benefits, especially in areas that, by their nature or implications that involve, can produce the germ of contamination and the danger of interference; the independence of the judge is finally in his credibility, which he manages to gain in the labour of his decisions and every moment of his activity. (…) The judge of all times must be and appear free and independent, and so much can be and appear where he wants and must want it to be worthy of his function and not betray his mandate.


Just after the murder of Livatino, followed numerous controversies. From the threat of mass resignation of magistrates, to the ominous appellation of “judges kids”; after more than 30 years since those events, what remains of those days and those controversies?

At the time of his death, September 21, 1990, Rosario Livatino, 38 years yet to be completed, had worked in Agrigento for 12 years and was the reference point of the colleagues of the office, by virtue of his wisdom and his preparation: the opposite of a “boy judge”, as still qualifies him who has little knowledge of his profile. The expression was used as a polemic against the then President of the Republic, Francesco Cossiga: in fact, the latter had, in turn, evoked it to point out the anomaly of access to the function of magistrate even at 24/25 years of age (possible at the time), accompanied by the frequent granting of very incisive powers. The time that has passed has not brought with it the wisdom to avoid such acute clashes, and to address in a balanced way the problems in the judicial system, which today appear even more substantial than 30 years ago.


Personally, it has always struck me in Livatino’s professional career how he was extremely attentive to corruption, to the false invoicing, how he understood how corruption was a face of the Mafia, and in this lay his strength. Do you think that this vision of his, largely ahead of its time, has been fully recognised and understood today?

The publications dedicated to Livatino have rarely deepened his profile as a magistrate. With my colleague Domenico Airoma and Prof. Mauro Ronco, we tried to outline in the book, recently published, A Judge as God commands, ed. Il Timone, using what emerges from the judgments of merit of the three truncated trial dedicated to his murder, and from the measures he wrote in his last year of life, when he played the role of judge, recovered with the help of the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission. Of the mafia phenomenon in its territory Rosario has shown a certainly very advanced knowledge compared to that historical moment. The municipalities of the province of Agrigento with the strongest index of Mafia presence, and with heavy opposition between “traditional” and “emerging cosche”, were Canicattì, Palma di Montechiaro and Porto Empedocle. In a decree of application of special surveillance (n. 21/90 MP of 07/23/1990 against Alzalone Giovanni and others) Livatino, who was its extensor, described the reality of Palma di Montechiaro as follows: “a town deeply oppressed by this deterrent manifestation of its social coexistence, a manifestation which, in its temporal latitude and in the strong emotional impact on public opinion that accompanies it, appears to have permeated it to the point of inevitably conditioning expressions and habits of collective life”. In Canicattì alone – as can be seen from the minutes of the session of the Provincial Committee for Security held in the Prefecture of Agrigento on April 5, 1991 – out of a population of about 40,000 inhabitants, there were seven bank branches, and until a few years before there were four headquarters of local banks, two of which were then absorbed into national institutions. This refers, together with the dangerousness of the opposing “cosche”, to an important capacity of movement of money, and therefore an elevated corruptive potentiality, of which Livatino had full awareness.


The mafia in Sicily has killed don Pino Puglisi, the camorra don Peppe Diana, a real attack to the Church; yet, in the common imagination, there is this strong link between mafia and religiosity, how can it be definitely broken?

In the territories of traditional presence and rootedness, the mafia-type organisations seek the consent of the population to obtain protection, unwillingness to cooperate with the judicial authorities, protection for fugitives. The appropriation of religious symbols and the proximity to the manifestations of popular fervour, in areas where the Faith, notwithstanding, is part of daily life, are functional to the consolidation of a widespread context.

One of the historical events that contributed to change the sensitivity towards mafias happened on May 9, 1993, with the speech of St. John Paul II in the Valley of the Temples, in Agrigento. Towards the mafiosi he was hard as never before: “These who are the guilty ones who disturb this peace carry on their conscience so many human victims. They must understand, they must understand that it is not allowed to kill innocents. God once said: Do not kill. Man, any man, any human agglomeration, any mafia, cannot change and trample on this holiest right of God.” In pronouncing the term “mafia”, the Pontiff’s condemnation was clear and unequivocal: he placed the mafia in conflict with the “right” to life, which is “most holy” because, before man, “it belongs to God”. The only path he left to the Mafiosi was conversion, but the “Convert!” appeared to be an order rather than an exhortation: the call to this necessity was solemn – “in the name of Christ crucified and risen” – with the admonition to the “guilty” that for them “the judgment of God will come!”. Those words marked a watershed, and at the same time, a warning not to instrumentalise the symbols of the Faith in order to strengthen the Mafia hegemony in the territory, debasing the forms of popular devotion. And they have strengthened the consciousness of a clear distance.


The anti-Mafia tension of a magistrate like Livatino, still exists today? Have we missed something along the way, or do we keep the memory of courage, but no longer act as those who have risked even their own lives for the values of a society free from the mafias?

As it is improper to reserve to Livatino the qualification of “boy judge”, so it is reductive to make his figure coincide only with that of a magistrate “antimafia”. Rosario was a magistrate without adjectives, who sought neither current nor ideological protection, indeed he kept both at a distance. In the conference mentioned before he refused the model of magistrate who espouses a position for ideological reasons, as “would give himself and his tasks of the characters and purposes totally foreign to what is the prototype of the judicial interpreter in the common social feeling as a figure super partes and such as to seriously think of a real betrayal with regard to those values whose protection our Constitutional Charter entrusts the judge. For some time and from many quarters, it has been argued that the model of the magistrate to be recovered is not that of an interpreter confined to the letter of the normative datum, but – from the most peripheral of the Courts to the Court of Cassation, and up to the Constitutional Court – that of a judge “social sensor”, ready to give legal form to ideological instances and desires, a regulator of conflicts between all subjectivities committed to their self-affirmation. At the bottom of this is a vision impregnated with relativistic individualism, according to which the judge is called upon to support the changes, eliminating the obstacles to the alleged social changes.

The problem was well known to Rosario: “(…) there can be no relationship between the image of the magistrate and the changing society, in the sense that the former must not undergo any change, whatever the whims of the latter (…)”. In what do these “whims” consist? Are they limited to a business sphere only or do they have a wider scope, such as to include those upheavals, a reflection of the desire to change the coordinates of the human being? The “system” is not only the one, raised to the chronicles, made up of exchanges and partitions, appointments and memberships. There is a more articulated and deep “system”, which brings together not only magistrates, exponents of political parties and businessmen, but also judges of supranational courts and courts of other nations, maÎtre à penser, academics, managers of information circuits, with the aim of changing not so much the society, as the man: a system of judges and at the same time of “social engineers”, a consortium of refined technocrats. Livatino, while keeping at a distance from the first “system”, warns against the second, and captures with prophetic spirit its sense of superior justice only apparent, its exorbitant scope for every magistrate, called to become “hidden protagonist” – so he defines it – of social experiments. The only protection that Rosario sought for his own professional conscience was that of God: S.T.D., sub tutela Dei are the three letters found on the most challenging pages of his diary.

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