Livatino was born in Canicattì, in Sicily. After successfully completing high school, he entered the university Law Faculty in Palermo in 1971, and graduated in 1975. Between 1977 and 1978 he serviced as vice-director in the Register Office in Agrigento. In 1978, after being among the top percentage in the Judiciary audit, he got a position as magistrate at the court at Caltanissetta.
In 1979 he became "sostituto procuratore" (deputy prosecutor) in the Agrigento court, a position he kept until 1989, when he was appointed assistant judge (giudice a latere). He was murdered on September 21, 1990, along route SS 640 by four killers, as he travelled without bodyguard to the court. The assassins had been paid by the "Stidda" of Agrigento, a criminal organization similar to the more famous Cosa Nostra.
During his career, Livatino worked against corruption, and gained success in a number of cases, obtaining the seizure of large sums of money and property and the arrest of senior figures in organised crime.
His story inspired a novel, Il giudice ragazzino ("The Boy Judge"), written by Nando Dalla Chiesa in 1992, and this was made into a film with the same title in 1994 by director Alessandro di Robilant.