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Проф. Джузепе Консоло

Professor Giuseppe Consolo

In “the America for Bulgaria” Lecture Theatre at the Rectorate building of Sofia University Professor Giuseppe Consolo from Guido Carli University delivered a public lecture on the topic of “The Origin of Law and the Presumption of Innocence According to Article 27 of the Italian Constitution – the Antonov Case and the Attempt at Assassination of the Pope in the Light of the Constitution of Italy.”

The event was attended by His Excellency Marco Conticelli, the Ambassador of the Republic of Italy to this country, Professor Dr. Anastas Gerdzhikov, Deputy Rector of Sofia University, Professor Dr. Sasho Penov, Dean of the Faculty of Law, faculty, jurists, students and guests.

Professor Giuseppe Consolo welcomed those present in the Lecture Theatre by addressing them with “Dear friends” in Bulgarian. He thanked the academic community of Sofia University and especially Professor Ivan Ilchev, the Rector of the University, Professor Dr. Sasho Penov, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Mr. Martin Belovski, and all his friends who participated in the events linked with the date of May, 13th, 1981, or as it was termed by Professor Consolo “the trial of the century”.

Professor Consolo remarked that the most important thing for him was to be in the midst of university students because it was then that he felt most at home.

“You, the citizens of Bulgaria, have the privilege that you may not be aware of one word in your mother tongue, yet it is a very important one. In the Bulgarian language there is one word which means ‘never violate the constitutional norms’: never-anti-constitutionalise,” the Professor said.

Then he also explained that the concept of the inviolability of the constitutional norms is present in a different guise in all the most developed constitutions of the world, including the Bulgarian: “You know very well that the Constitution is the mother of the laws of every country because it is the protective core where all the citizens of a country are moving. We have to abide by the law, and first and foremost we have to abide by the constitutional law because the Constitution itself makes us do that. Yet, why is there such an obligation to abide by the Constitution?” Professor Consolo asked the guests.

According to the theories of some law experts, which he himself does not uphold, the Constitution has to be abided by because in its absence law transforms into subjective law. According to some jurists the law abided by all citizens should be in force within the confines of the codified norm, the latter making us abide by it.

According to Professor Consolo the different kinds of subjective law, and more specifically the political rights, are not the right to move within the legal norm, as if it is outside the citizens and must be abided by only because that was written down: “In my opinion, each and every citizen must be entitled to this right and we are claiming it out loud, and the behaviour of the citizens must be codified and turned into a norm. This is not only my view but also the view of many of my colleagues and experts in constitutional law. The will of the people which has become a law – that is democracy,” the speaker said.

He quoted Sir Winston Churchill who had said that democracy is the worst form of government with the exception of all the other forms ever invented.

“The state of democracy in a country is measured by the speed with which it transforms the will of the people into a law. The more democratic a country is, the faster it transforms the will of its citizens into a law. If the will of the citizens is not turned into a law, then democracy dies out and turns into a dictatorship,” Professor Giuseppe Consolo added.


He speaker noted that he had maintained close contacts with his Bulgarian friends and the attempt at assassination of the Pope John-Paul II that took place on May 13th, 1981 was doubtlessly committed by Mehmet Ali Aǧca. Professor Consolo recounted how Aǧca had managed to escape from prison disguised as a Turkish military officer, saluting the prison wardens. Two years after the attempt at assassination Sergey Antonov and Todor Ayvazov were arrested as accomplices in the crime. “At the moment when Antonov was arrested in Rome, Ayvazov was in Bulgaria, just about to leave for Italy. Thus, he had the chance to stay out of Italy… I was appointed defence for the three Bulgarians, and it was quite soon that I realized that the Bulgarians had nothing to do with the attempt at the Pope’s life,” Professor Consolo continued.

He pointed out that he had won the case due to the effectiveness of the Italian Constitution. Professor Consolo pointed to the judge that, in the first place, Sergey Antonov had been put in prison whereas he should not have pleaded guilty till a sentence had been passed on him. On the basis of this norm the subject is not guilty till a final ruling proving the opposite is passed (Article 27, Paragraph 2). This article generates a law that has become a fundamental norm of many international conventions, including Article 48 of the EU Charter of the Fundamental Rights, Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which reads that “the defendant of a crime is presumed innocent till the guilt is proven in compliance with the law.”

“What kind of law did the judge refer to to make the poor Antonov spend two years of imprisonment before trial? Someone had to, and it was me who got the obligation to explain to the judges that they should guarantee the presumption of innocence till the defendant is proven guilty,” Professor Consolo remarked. There are three legislations according to which the defendant is not treated guilty and cannot be taken into custody. According to the judge that norm is not always used: when, for example, there is the danger that the defendant may escape, discredit the evidence or repeat the criminal act. “At that time the Pope had already been under close body-guard, Sergey Antonov had not escaped for two years from Italy and there had been no danger to discredit the evidence. Thus, I proved that the accusation brought up against Antonov was a slander.”

He noted that the public prosecutor Marini demanded the release of the defendants from prison. “You can just imagine what the public opinion was. I was interviewed by the “24 Hours” daily whereby I thanked all my Bulgarian friends who helped me conduct the investigation of the trial. I said something that was misinterpreted, namely, that when Antonov, Ayvazov, and Vasilev were released from prison, why didn’t the Bulgarians ask for true fairness but rather brushed aside the issue as if it were of little importance?” Professor Consolo asked. “The stain cast on the Bulgarian people is a horrendous shame and it has nothing to do with the attempt at assassination of the Pope. I am still waiting for someone to explain to me why proceedings were not instituted against Italian justice concerning that outrageous legal blunder.”


He made it clear that according to both Italian and Bulgarian legislation it is not allowed to keep someone in custody under similar circumstances and when someone like Antonov had spent two years in prison, and for the first six months he had not been even allowed to talk directly to his counsel except through a very thick glass, that all meant that successful defense was next to impossible. “When Antonov was declared not guilty by the court of the first instance, I think, he could claim damages from the Italian state. This is an amendment that must be related to the time of the illegal detention that he suffered,” Professor Consolo claimed.

The second rule he dwelt on is the right to evidence, i.e. the prosecution has to prove the guilt beyond any doubt, and in the case of the slightest doubt it should rule on the benefit of the doubt principle, i.e. in favour of the defendant. Thus, in fact, the trial had to be immediately cancelled. “I would not like to open again the page of the political reasons which brought to all that. What took place was an attempt at assassination not of the Pope but rather of our own Constitution. The functioning of the examining magistrates and the judges should be led only by the necessity to reconstruct the historical facts and should use such a method of inquiry that is fully neutral,” Professor Consolo stressed. He elaborated on Article 27, Paragraph 3 which reads that the punishment cannot contradict our human feelings. “Yet, these are only words and do not reflect the way Antonov was treated which was in contradiction with the Constitution. Unfortunately, Antonov, who died a short while ago, did not get the full retribution and acquittal of that behavior. This is why I believe that there are many people who would remember that shameful page, a shame not for Bulgaria, but for Italian legislature,” Professor Consolo pointed out and emphasized the fact that the guarantee principle still works in Italian legislation.

“I outlined my views on the Constitution. Try to rationalize them not forgetting what I have just said at the beginning of my lecture: do not anticonstitutionalise,” Professor Giuseppe Consolo said in conclusion.