Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, Relationship between the tribunals of first instance and second instance, 27 March 2001, Private.
This entry involves the situation in which a Tribunal of Second Instance directed its suffragan courts to use or refrain from using certain grounds, or has attempted to disapprove or disallow the nomination of certain persons to roles within the Tribunals of First Instance. The Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura was queried as to whether this was the right and responsibility of a Second Instance Tribunal in relationship to the Tribunals of First Instance within its jurisdiction. The Apostolic Signatura stated that such activity on the part of Second Instance Tribunals is not permitted.
SUPREMUM SIGNATURAE APOSTOLICAE TRIBUNALPalazzo Della Cancelleria
00120 Città Del Vaticano
27 March 2001
To the Reverend Judicial Vicar, you pose a question concerning the role of a metropolitan tribunal vis-a-vis the tribunals of its suffragan dioceses whose cases it hears in second instance, and, specifically, if the metropolitan tribunal "may impose limitations on the personnel, jurisprudential usage, administration, and structures of a suffragan Tribunal, apart from or even against the design and perspectives of the diocesan bishop who constitutes and moderates the suffragan Tribunal."
In response, it must be clearly stated that a metropolitan tribunal has no power whatsoever to impose limitations on the personnel, administration and structures of a suffragan tribunal, nor to give it general directives concerning its jurisprudence.
Rather, the metropolitan tribunal must respect the autonomy of the suffragan tribunals and the proper responsibility of each suffragan bishop to moderate his own tribunal.
However. in handling a concrete case – in keeping, of course, with the norm of law – the metropolitan tribunal could disagree with the tribunal of first instance. The judges of the metropolitan tribunal could, for example, reverse the decision of a suffragan tribunal to reject a libellus (cf. c. 1505, §4), order the judge of first instance to publish a sentence to the parties (cf. c. 1634, §2), reverse a first instance sentence in keeping with canon 1608, or even declare a first instance sentence null and void (cf. c. 1621 together with cc. 1620 and 1622).
With regard to the question of reversing a sentence from first instance, such a situation could result not only when the judges of the metropolitan tribunal have a different understanding of the facts of the case, but also when they have a different understanding of jurisprudence. The latter case especially reveals the need for a particularly qualified tribunal of third instance which, through its sentences, can give proper guidance to first and second instance tribunals in handling concrete cases.
It is the hope of the Apostolic Signatura that these brief observations will be of assistance to yourself and the other tribunal personnel in carrying out the correct administration of justice for the faithful.
Taking this occasion to express my cordial best wishes, I remain
Sincerely yours in Our Lord,
Francesco Saverio Salerno
Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, Relationship between the tribunals of first instance and second instance, 27 March 2001, Private, CLSA, Roman Replies and Advisory Opinions, 2001, 35-36.