Two days after an Italian appeals court threw out the murder convictions of American college student Amanda Knox and former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito in what has been described worldwide as one of Italy’s greatest judiciary flops, supporters of embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are seizing upon the case to decry what they call judicial “witch hunts.”
The four-year saga showed the world that “the credibility of [Italy’s] justice system is beyond a joke,” wrote Giuliano Ferrara, chief editor of the conservative daily Il Foglio in a front page piece comparing Ms. Knox to Mr. Berlusconi.
“Your Amanda, our Berlusconi: each his or her own hostage to Justice,” wrote Mr. Ferrara in the open letter to foreign reporters published both in English and Italian. “For years we have been trying to explain to you that Italy’s biggest problem is not [Berlusconi] … but a Media-Justice ‘inside the Beltway’ complex that has turned Italy into the very opposite of a country under the Rule of Law.”
Ferrara’s comments echo those of other influential Berlusconi backers who have long blamed Italy’s judicial system for the fact that the prime minister is involved in several trials ranging from corruption to underage prostitution. So it is no surprise that some are now attempting to turn the Knox trial into the case for Berlusconi. Political agendas aside, however, their attacks of the judiciary reflect a growing distrust among Italy’s citizens.
According to a July poll by Ipr Marketing polling agency, 59 percent of Italians put “little or no trust at all” in the justice system. (Berlusconi has posted the poll on his website).
One of the biggest problems of the Italian judiciary is the length of trials, on average between four to six years, due both to bureaucracy and a system where three separate degrees are almost mandatory – meaning that after the first trials two appeals are de facto automatic. There could still, in fact, be a third trial for Knox, though the Seattle student is unlikely to come back to Italy.
Human rights activists have also often criticized the widespread use of “precautionary imprisonment,” a practice that allows authorities to keep suspects in jail while waiting for the sentence. Since sentences take so long to come in Italy, this means innocents can spend several years behind the bars before being cleared of charges.
Also, long trials mean that some of the proceedings head to nowhere.
Finally, as the Knox Case demonstrated, there are also concerns about the use of forensic evidence in court and the judiciary approach to it: “In the United States, federal judges must study a 637-page manual in order to be able to evaluate forensic evidence,” Marco Morin, a Venice-based firearms expert who declared he no longer wanted to work in Italian courts, explained in an interview with Il Giornale conservative newspaper. “Here, they accept everything without questioning, as long as it comes from the institutional laboratory.”