The decision by Italy’s highest criminal appeals court to overturn the acquittals of Seattle student Amanda Knox and her former Italian boyfriend and order a new trial in the 2007 slaying of her British roommate is raising concern about how justice works in Italy, reports the Associated Press. People cleared of serious crimes can have the threat of prison hanging over them for years, while powerful politicians like ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi can avoid jail sentences by filing appeal after appeal until the statute of limitations runs out.
Successive governments have vowed to streamline proceedings but have failed to do so. The AP says powerful people in politics, business, and the judiciary have repeatedly fended off reform to protect their interests and people close to them. Its defenders say Italy’s legal system is one of the world’s most “garantista” — or protective of civil liberties. Defendants are guaranteed three levels of trial before a conviction is considered definitive and both sides are granted the right to appeal. The system sprang up after World War II to prevent the travesties of summary justice seen under fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The result: “justice can be delayed until it’s denied as cases move at a snail’s pace through the bloated legal machine.”