By Legislative Decree No. 28 dated 4 March 2010 (the “Decree”), the European Mediation Directive 2008/52/EC (the Directive) has been implemented in Italy. The Directive is part of a European-wide initiative to promote and regulate the development of mediation throughout the EU. The Directive itself should apply only to mediation in cross-border disputes, but nothing should prevent Member States from applying such provisions also to internal mediation processes.
The mediation procedures introduced by the Decree, which covers both cross-border and domestic disputes, only apply to claims/rights which can be freely disposed of by the relevant parties (“Diritti Disponibili”) as opposed to rights which cannot be freely disposed of by the relevant individuals (e.g.: Italian family law).
The Decree has introduced two kinds of mediation procedure:
- a mandatory procedure which applies to any possible litigation in relation to insurance, banking and financial agreements as well as other matters such as joint ownership, property rights, division of assets, hereditary and family law, leases in general, gratuitous loans, leases of going concern, compensation for damages due to car/nautical accidents, medical liability or defamation/libel; and
- a non-mandatory procedure which applies to any civil and commercial litigation regarding matters other than those listed above.
The mandatory mediation procedure is effective as of 20 March 2011 except for any possible litigation in relation to joint ownership and compensation for damages due to car/nautical accidents which will be effective as of 20 March 2012.
The procedure is mandatory in the sense that from such date all plaintiffs prior to bringing legal proceedings shall have to try to settle disputes falling within this “mandatory” category by mediation. Legal advisers to the relevant parties shall also have a duty to inform their clients about mediation and are under obligation to try to resolve disputes by way of mediation.
The mediation procedures established under the Decree may be brought before any of the mediation organisations mentioned in Article 16 of the Decree and the applicable procedure shall follow the rules applied by the body chosen by the parties.
However, where there are alternative mediation procedures available, the plaintiffs will have the option to use either the procedure as set out in the Decree or the alternatives. Two alternative mediation procedures are currently in force in Italy, which can be used instead of the mediation procedure under the Decree in relation to certain banking and financial disputes (see Legislative Decree No. 179 dated 8 October 2007 and art. 128 bis of the Italian Banking Law).
The European Court of Justice, in its Judgment in joined cases C-317/08, C-318/08, C-319/08, and C-320/08 for a preliminary ruling issued on 18 March 2010, held that EU directives and general principles do not preclude national legislation which imposes prior implementation of an out-of-court settlement procedure, provided that that procedure does not result in a decision which is binding on the parties, that it does not cause a substantial delay for the purposes of bringing legal proceedings, that it suspends the period for the time-barring of claims and that it does not give rise to costs – or gives rise to very low costs – for the parties, and only if electronic means is not the only means by which the settlement procedure may be accessed and interim measures are possible in exceptional cases where the urgency of the situation so requires.