The aberration angle

The Observer runs a long article  to coincide with the start of summing up in the appeal case of Sollecito and Knox in Perugia.

The expectation of an acquittal is now such that journalists are moving on to the ‘What it all means’ phase. And this story is probably a taste of what is to come.

An unnamed source is quoted:

‘According to one local journalist with decades of crime reporting experience, the descent of American and British reporters on Perugia in the days after the killing “put pressure on local investigators to go too fast”.’

Only in Italy could a journalist — a person whose work is public by nature — insist on being quoted as an unnamed source. It is the measure of the society, and the shallowness of its professionals. Of course it is also shocking (and I think unusual) that The Observer would allow a journalist to be quoted as an unnamed source.

The import of the remark, of course, is straightforward. This is an early example of the aberration argument. It infers that this miscarriage of justice was unusual, explicable by its uniqueness, and partly the fault of foreign journalists.

Were the jailings of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four or the Maguire Seven in the UK aberrations that resulted from journalistic pressure on police? Or did these cases — and many more that were not terrorist-related — reflect systemic failings in the police and criminal justice systems?

The passage and application of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in the UK in 1984 is the answer to the question.

In Italy, there will be no gains from a monstrous miscarriage of justice. Instead, we are getting ready for face saving. The narrative of the professional class’s self-defence is under construction. It tells of a society incapable of self-improvement.

At the same time, inflaming those famous Italian tempers further, people around Berlusconi are suggesting that acquittal for Sollecito and Knox will prove that the police-judicial system is rotten to the core and therefore that cases against the premier are fabricated assaults. It is the little jump in logic that does not work. The system is a mess, but this is not reflected in the existence of cases against Berlusconi, it is reflected in the fact that justice is never done.

In northern Europe or the US Berlusconi would have been dealt with by the judicial system years ago. Here he gets to survive, with the only quid pro quo being that he must participate in the judicial circus. The latest gratuitous leaks and leaks from cases that have not been completed are surely a small price to pay for never actually having to pay for anything. Better still, the judiciary is a source of endless votes for Berlusconi, much of whose political support derives from popular frustration with Italy’s Third World legal system.

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