Police and thieves

Why don’t I feel happier? In the past week, Arsenal beat the best soccer team in the world (Barcelona), I went skiing and a metre of snow conveniently fell from the sky, Berlusconi was scheduled for trial in April, and Berlusconi’s soccer team Milan lost to Spurs. Surely that is a pretty good week?

Milan are clearly rubbish, the snow-boarding was definitely excellent, and Arsenal have a slither of a chance of holding on to their advantage in the return leg at the Nou Camp. So the problem must be with Berlusconi’s trial. It is. The press coverage grates on me because of the drearily repeated notion that one desperate old fool is the sum of Italy’s problems (here is the FT with some typically superficial coverage, though you likely need a subscription).

In reality, the investigation into Berlusconi’s latest lies and idiocies is a tale of a system failing to change. Details of the investigation, including testimony and wire tap evidence, have been leaked by police/magistrates in the standard contravention of the law and due process. (Here is one of many leaks, translated into English in The Guardian)

You would have thought that just once those who represent the legal system could have said to themselves: ‘Why don’t we try doing things the correct way this time? After all, we are dealing with an elected prime minister, so it might be smart to be impeccably professional.’ But oh no. Not for this lot the quiet, calm comportment of the thoughtful professional. For this lot, it is showtime, freshly-ironed magistrates’ togas, newly-pressed carabinieri trousers, and the rest — all of which allows Berlusconi’s followers to nurture their persecution complex.

I am reminded of remarks made by one of China’s bravest and most sensible lawyers, Mo Shaoping, at a conference last year. Mo, who defended as best he could the Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, offered his analysis of why the rule of law has been regressing in China in recent years. Strikingly, he said that one of the biggest problems is judges overstepping their role: ‘Originally [at the beginning of efforts to stregthen the rule of law in the 2000s], there was emphasis on judicial neutrality and passivity: the judiciary should be passive and neutral,‘ he remarked. ‘Now, the emphasis is on the active initiative of the judiciary. I myself consider this a step back.’ You are not alone, Mr Mo.

In vaguely related news:

The parents of Amanda Knox have been committed to trial for criminal libel for saying that their daughter was mistreated by police investigators. The trial, scheduled for July, will be the perfect opportunity for Perugia police and magistrates to produce THEIR TAPE-RECORDING of Knox’s illegal all-night interview. Then everyone can listen to what happened and make an informed judgement. Presumably the tape also includes the police explaining to Knox her right to have a lawyer present. (Note that The Guardian article behind the link is wrong that libel is only a criminal charge in Italy; it can be either criminal or civil — the police have opted for criminal. It is fair to say that criminal libel laws are typical of institutionally backward societies; such laws are opposed by all major writers’ and civil liberties groups that I am aware of.)


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