Italy’s top court has added a new human rights violation to a list commonly thought to include enslavement, torture and forced starvation: the sound of a toilet flushing at night.
That country’s supreme court cited rulings by the European Court of Human Rights in deciding a 19-year legal battle that began when a couple living in an apartment near La Spezia complained that their neighbors’ new toilet was keeping them awake with “intolerable noises,” according to the Milan-based newspaper Il Giornale.
A lower court ruled against them, and the couple took the case to an appeals court in the northern city of Genoa. That court ordered an investigation that revealed why the toilet seemed so loud: The four brothers who owned that apartment had embedded the water tank in a nine-inch wall not far from the couple’s headboard, the Times of London reported.
The court was sympathetic to the couple’s struggle to sleep. The sound of flushing — “aggravated by frequent night use” — compromised their quality of life and violated the right to the free exercise of daily habits established by the European Convention on Human Rights, the appellate judge said, according to Il Giornale.
For this breach, the brothers would have to move the water tank and pay the couple about $565 for every year since the device was installed — roughly $10,760 in total — the court ruled.
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The brothers asked Italy’s supreme court to intervene, and that panel also ruled against them. The European Court of Human Rights had upheld the “right to respect for one’s private and family life,” the high court said, according to Il Giornale. The court added that the nighttime flushing’s interference with rest also violated the Italian constitution’s right to health, the Times reported.
The extended neighborly dispute is not unusual for the country’s famously slow justice system. Italy has the European Union’s least efficient judicial process, with courts taking an average of more than 500 days to reach a first conclusion in civil and commercial cases, the European Commission concluded in July. First appeals typically take almost 800 days, and appeals to the supreme court stretch for about 1,300 days.
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Prime Minister Mario Draghi, seeking to bolster the country’s economy and unlock coronavirus recovery funds from the European Union, has vowed to change the system. Speaking to U.S. business executives in November, Italian Justice Minister Marta Cartabia described the administration’s planned changes as “the mother of all reforms.”
While the 19 years of the toilet case is probably not a record, it highlights a main flaw in the Italian legal system: The supreme court must hear and decide every claim put before it, said Francesco Parisi, co-author of “The Italian Legal System: An Introduction.” Unlike in the United States, the high court cannot choose which cases to consider.
“This creates a bottleneck in the decision-making process — three levels of adjudication, instead of two, with a single court for the entire nation,” said Parisi, who is also a law professor at the University of Minnesota.
Journalist Massimiliano Parente argued Monday that the toilet lawsuit highlights the sluggishness of Italy’s legal system. Albert Einstein, he wrote in Il Giornale, developed the theory of relativity in less time than it took for Italy’s courts to solve a tiff between neighbors.
“If Franz Kafka had been an Italian citizen of today he would not have written ’The Trial,’ he would have written ‘The Toilet’ to describe justice in our country,” Parente wrote.
“At the judicial level,” he added, “we are a big, huge, gigantic clogged toilet.”
Stefano Pitrelli contributed to this report.
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