February 12

Assent to decree refused

Italy became a republic in 1946 as a result of a questionable referendum and after King Victor Emmanuel III had reluctantly abdicated in favour of his son King Umberto II, who since 1943 had exercised the constitutional functions of the King as Lieutenant General of the Realm. 

Although Victor Emmanuel had dismissed the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, he was forever compromised by appointing Mussolini as Prime Minister in 1922. As the video shows, this was after a period of economic distress, the fear of a communist takeover and internal disorder culminating in the fascist March on Rome. 


King Umberto was widely praised for the way in which he had undertaken his duties both before and after his accession. He accepted the referendum, although it was probably manipulated,  and was required to leave Italy by the government.  He was not allowed to return until near his death.

Italy as a republic tried to retain the Westminster model, with a president as head of state. This is not unlike the French third and fourth republics. The current French republic is a curious  mixture of the Westminster system with a  strong executive presidency.

The current Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano, created headlines when he recently refused to sign a decree submitted by the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. The object of the decree was to stop the father of Eluana Englaro, who has been in a vegetative state for 16 years, from removing her feeding tube.

The Jurist notes that President Napolitano said the measure was unconstitutional because it would effectively overrule last year's decision by the country's Court of Cassation to allow removal of the tube.

The Prime Minister then asked the cabinet to approve a bill to be presented to the Italian Parliament. In Italian law a decree requires the President's signature, but a bill can become law if it is approved by both Houses of Parliament.

However, Eluana Englaro died on 10 February. The Jurist says that euthanasia is currently illegal in Italy.

In Luxembourg recently, the constitutional monarch refused to assent to legislation approving euthanasia. In Liechtenstein Prince Hans Adam II refused assent to a bill legalising abortion, and after a referendum his powers were increased. In Belgium the King declined assent to a similar proposal and was deemed incapable of acting so that the measure could be adopted.

In 1937, the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta refused Royal Assent to legislation taking over control of certain banks, and in relation to the press, on constitutional grounds.

In 1975, in Australia it was suggested that the supply bill be submitted to the Governor-General because the Senate was delaying approval but had not rejected the bill.  The Whitlam government never submitted the bill, no doubt being advised by its lawyers that this would be unconstitutional and that the Governor-General was sure to refuse assent.  



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