Comparative Politics

Italy and the politics of criminal trials

Oct 4 '11

Since Lee’s departure, the tone of this blog has regrettably improved – John has asked me to drag it down a bit again by talking to the political science behind Amanda Knox’s trial. While there is no political science literature on this that I can find, the “notorious inefficiency”:http://www.icj.org/dwn/database/PRItaly230911Final.pdf of Italy’s court system plays a quite important role in politics. On the one hand, trials take years to work their way through the system; on the other, Italy has a quite severe statute of limitations. The result is that accused criminals with enough money and sufficiently ingenious defense lawyers can keep trials going and going until the statute of limitations kicks in. This has implications for politicians such as Silvio Berlusconi, who has managed to keep out of jail despite the odd conviction here and there, and the widely held belief that he was up to his eyes in various forms of illegal activity. One of his current trials – for bribing David Mills (a disgraced solicitor and former husband of a cabinet minister in the last Labour government) is liable to run out of steam under the statute next year. The specific interests of Berlusconi in keeping this game going have resulted in a variety of legislative initiatives aimed at improving the rights of defendants (and in particular defendants who hold senior political office) in ways that would prevent final decisions being reached until it was too late. Surprisingly for US readers, what is remarkable about the Amanda Knox case is its remarkable speed – often, trials and appeals take far, _far_ longer than they did in Knox’s case.