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Coat of arms of the Vatican City.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Vatican City

The Law of Vatican City State consists of many forms, the most important of which is the Fundamental Law of Vatican City State, essentially the Constitution of Vatican City State. The Code of Penal Procedure governs Tribunals and the Lateran Treaty governs relations with the Republic of Italy.

Fundamental Law[edit]

The Fundamental Law of Vatican City State, promulgated by Pope John Paul II on 26 November 2000, consists of 20 Articles and is the constitutional law of the Vatican City State.[1] It obtained the force of law of 22 February 2001, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Apostle, and replaced in its entirety the Fundamental Law of Vatican City promulgated by Pope Pius XI on 7 June 1929 (Law n. I). All the norms in force in Vatican City State which were not in agreement with the new Law were abrogated and the original of the Fundamental Law, bearing the Seal of Vatican City State, was deposited in the Archive of the Laws of Vatican City State and the corresponding text was published in the Supplement to the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.[2]


The judicial system of Vatican City consists of:[3][4]

  • a sole judge (Giudice Unico) with limited jurisdiction
  • a tribunal (tribunale) with four members
  • a Court of Appeal (Corte d'Appello) with four members
  • a Supreme Court (Corte di Cassazione) with three members

Justice is exercised in the name of the Supreme Pontiff.

The sole judge has to be a Vatican citizen and he can simultaneously serve as a member of the tribunal. The tribunal itself consists of a president and three other judges (however, cases are heard in a curia of three judges). A promoter of justice (Promotore di Giustizia) serves as attorney both at the tribunal and at the court of the sole judge. The members of the tribunal, the sole judge and the promoter of justice are all lay jurists and are appointed by the pope.

The Court of Appeal consists of the president and three other judges (similar to the tribunal, cases a heard in a curia of three judges). The members of the Court of Appeal are appointed by the pope for a term of five years and are both clerics and lay persons. The Promoter of Justice of the Court of Appeals of Vatican City is currently, since his appointment by Pope Francis on Wednesday, June 12, 2013, Professor Raffaele Coppola, Professor of the Law Faculty at the State University of Bari in Bari, Italy, and a member of the Bar for canon and civil law in the Holy See.[5]

The Supreme Court consists of its president, who is by law the Cardinal Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (currently Raymond Leo Burke) and two other cardinals, who are appointed by the president on a yearly basis and who also have to be members of the Signatura.

All courts have their seat at the Palazzo del Tribunale at Piazza Santa Marta behind Saint Peter's Basilica.

Statutory law[edit]

Most of the statutory law is based on the Italian code from 1889. It is outdated in many ways. This was amended in a major fashion in 2013 to include a number of United Nations Conventions the state has signed over the years, as well as bringing it up to date. The penal code now includes specifics defining money laundering, explicit listing of sexual crimes, and violating confidentiality. Since life imprisonment was abolished by Pope Francis in 2013, the maximum penalty is 30 to 35 years of imprisonment.[6]


The Vatican does not have jail, per se, and usually relies on Italian justice. Italian police are on site working with Vatican security police. The Italian police normally arrest people accused of infractions of the law, recognized by both states. Violating confidentiality is not recognized as a felony by Italy. When the pope's butler leaked confidential material to an Italian journalist in 2012, the perpetrator was tried in Vatican court and sentenced to be confined to the Vatican police barracks for 18 months.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Law Library of Congress, "Guide to Law Online: Holy See", accessed Jan-2-2013
  2. ^ VaticanState.va, "Fundamental Law of Vatican City State", concluding paragraphs; accessed Jan-2-2013
  3. ^ Giuseppe Dalla Torre (2009). "L'Ordinamento Giudiziario". Ottanta anni dello Stato della Città del Vaticano. Governatorato dello Stato della Città del Vaticano. pp. 135–144. 
  4. ^ "Legge che approva l'ordinamento giudiziario dello Stato della Città del Vaticano (Suppl. 12)". Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS) 79. Holy See. 1987. 
  5. ^ http://attualita.vatican.va/sala-stampa/bollettino/2013/06/12/news/31160.html
  6. ^ "Archbishop Dominique Mamberti Explains the Importance of the Laws Approved by the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State". Vatican Information Service. 2013-07-11. Retrieved 2013-07-15. 
  7. ^ Winfield, Nicole (July 12, 2013). "Pope criminalizes leaks, sex abuse". The Burlington Free Press (Burlington, Vermont). pp. 4A. Retrieved July 14, 2013. 

External links[edit]

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