Posts Tagged ‘Italian professional classes’

World’s sickest joke ends

March 28, 2015

Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox have been acquitted of the murder of Meredith Kercher, a crime there was never any serious evidence they were involved in. The process took more than eight years (quite quick for Italy); they were convicted, acquitted, convicted, acquitted, and spent four years in prison.

Meanwhile Rudy Guede, who did kill Meredith Kercher, and in the most brutal, painful manner after first sexually assaulting her, is already enjoying day release from prison.

There will be no enquiry into the handling of the case by prosecuting magistrate Giuliano Mignini, whose bizarre theories and lack of professionalism had convinced two journalists to write a book about his ‘investigative’ techniques long before the Kercher case. Nor will there be an enquiry into the conduct of elements of the Perugia police that operated with total unprofessionalism and outside the law during the investigation.

Some people on the Knox side are so relieved the torment is over that they are saying their faith in Italian justice is restored. This is a terrible thing to say. The only useful purpose the case has served is to advertise to the world just how hopeless the Italian justice system is and perhaps give a tiny push towards it one day being reformed.

I have cited European Union reports on the Italian justice system in previous blogs under the ‘Italy to Avoid’ category. One other pointer I noticed recently is that the World Bank, as of 2015, ranks Italy 147th in the world for enforcement of contracts.

 

More:

Amanda Knox’s account of her trial and incarceration is well worth a read. It isn’t perfect, but it is a serious book, much more serious than many others that have been written about her and Sollecito. (By a curious coincidence, the Capanne prison where she and Sollecito were held is the same one where the carpenter on our house in Italy died; a hippy, arrested for marijuana possession, there is a good prima facie case that he was beaten to death. Needless to say, his friends who tried to pursue legal recourse will not be getting any.)

 

Later:

The first media to have put the boot into the Italian legal system that I have seen is The Economist. Bless.

Ferguson versus Perugia

November 27, 2014

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As Ferguson, Missouri smoulders (literally and figuratively) following the decision not to indict a police officer who shot an unarmed black man dead, it is interesting to read Joshua Rozenberg’s opinion piece about the systemic failings of the arcane grand jury system that is still used in around 20 American states. It was a grand jury that decided not to indict the police officer.

What leaps out at me are the similarities between the functioning of grand juries (which only decide if there is a case to answer) and the functioning of Italy’s actual court system, as seen in the Sollecito-Knox satanic ritual murder trial in Perugia, about which I have blogged a great deal (see the ‘Italy to avoid’ tab).

The basics of a grand jury are that the prosecutor decides which witnesses to call and which witnesses to grant immunity from potential prosecution. There is no screening of jurors for potential bias and no objections can be raised about the choice of jurors. Proceedings, framed by the prosecutor who asks the questions (there is a theoretical right for jurors to ask questions at the end of testimony), are held entirely in secret and the grand jury decision is final. A longer outline of grand jury rules is here. Mostly it is the good ole boys of the south who still use grand juries, but a good number of supposedly more liberal states in the north-east do too; see here.

Well, if you look at the Sollecito-Knox satanic ritual murder trial in Perugia, several things that shocked me were: no capacity to screen jurors for bias, prosecution framed by the prosecuting magistrate (Giuliano Mignini) without any independent oversight, and jury deliberations framed and overseen in camera by the presiding judge rather than taking place independently. I am not saying this is a perfect analogue, but the excessive power granted to prosecutors and the lack of transparency do appear to be commonalities.

Of course in America the problem afflicts the indictment system in some states. In Italy it afflicts the entire national judicial process.

 

Later:

Here is another recent grand jury, in New York, failing to indict police officers over the death of a black man who was put in a choke-hold, and kept in one despite saying ‘I can’t breathe’. It was all captured on video. Coverage from the FT (sub needed). And here is coverage from The Guardian of protests in many US cities against the decision not to indict; again, the video of the police action is embedded.

No, no, no

July 1, 2014

The Guardian, which has reported Sollecito-Knox pretty well, falls asleep on the job. Sorry to those who don’t give a damn about Italy, but this complaint to the readers’ editor explains:

I ask you to take a  look at the 1 July Guardian story (no byline) about the appeal of Raffaele Sollecito. It asserts (par 4) that Knox and Sollecito have previously always had a ‘rigidly joint defence’. This is 180 degrees from the truth. Part of the reason for the original conviction was that they did not have a rigidly joint defence. If Sollecito’s pending appeal implies the possibility of Knox’s guilt as part of his defence, it will in fact be consistent with the line his lawyers have pursued in the past.

If you link to my blog entries on this subject and scroll down to September 19 2012, you will find a germane entry which references, among other things, much more accurate reporting by your own paper.
I am not sure if you have just picked up an agency report here, but a court case carrying a life sentence deserves better treatment.

Weekend reading: abuse of state power special

August 25, 2013

It has been a bumper week for abuse of state power. Here are some of the highlights:

Bradley Manning goes down for 35 years. On the watch of the ‘liberal’ president, Barack Obama. The FT (sub needed) argues that Manning got off lightly and may get parole in 10 years. The Guardian takes a different view on the proportionality of Manning’s sentence, a position closer to mine.

While the reaction pieces are being penned, Manning expresses a desire for hormone treatment to assist in a desired gender reassignment. Federal prisons offer this, military ones do not. Manning has asked that she [sic] be referred to henceforth as Chelsea, with the former name Bradley reserved only for letters to the the confinement facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. There are worse ways to spend half an hour than writing him/her a letter of support, so why not do so?.

From, for me, the damaged but well-meaning Manning to the thoughtful, lucid and brave Edward Snowden. In the UK, Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor, reveals threats from the British government, securocrats, and indirectly from David Cameron himself, to pre-emptively shut down further reporting of the Snowden cache using British legal powers of pre-emption.

It is depressing to read how the poodles in the UK government told their bosses in Washington that Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald’s partner David  Miranda would be detained at Heathrow, how Met police say they checked they were using anti-terrorism legislation correctly and how the police reckon they were procedurally perfect. Having taken the call from the lickspittle Brits, Washington then moved to distance itself from the Miranda detention and the seizure of his possessions, saying it wouldn’t happen in the US. As the Economist points out (sub needed), the anti-terrorism legislation under which Miranda was detained was established for the police to ascertain if a person “is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. To use such legislation against journalists is grotesque.

Over to China, where 70 policemen take the unusual risk of appending their thumbprints to a denunciation of the acting president of the Shanghai High Court who, they say, has been engaged in massive long-term corruption including stealing several tons of alcohol from the police booze budget each year. Court president Cui Yadong was already feeling the heat after senior Shanghai judges were recently captured on video cavorting with prostitutes. The video of the judges has had over 4 million hits.

Separately in China, the New York Times discusses ‘Document number 9’ and the alleged ‘seven subversive currents’ at large in the Chinese nation. Per my recent blog about Xi Jinping, we are starting to get more visibility on the new Chinese president and what we are seeing is not pretty. Xi’s evolving proto-Maoist approach to politics provides the background to the trial on corruption and abuse of power charges of fellow princeling Bo Xilai, which started this week. Bo was the person who invented the ‘New Red’ school of modified Maoist populism when he was running Chongqing. As Xi and pals move to crush him, the irony and hypocrisy are not lost on John Garnaut in Foreign Policy.

Here in Italy, meanwhile, we are enjoying a peculiarly Italian twist on the abuse of state power. Silvio Berlusconi, having been definitively condemned for a felony for the first time, has opted for an attack on state power that recalls, for me, Italy’s fascist past (much more so than the claims, which I previously dismissed on this site, that Beppe Grillo is proto fascist). Over the Ferragosto holiday Sil promised a programme of direct action on Italy’s beaches, with his supporters leafleting holiday makers who would otherwise be trying to catch a rest. The focus of Sil’s campaign is not so much a proposal for structural reform of the judiciary, or indeed enforcement of existing norms (which would be half the job done already), but instead a direct attack on magistrates and judges as a species. The strategy has more than a whiff of hoped-for intimidation.

Here is a lead story (in Italian) from Berlusconi’s Il Giornale during the holiday. Although the article was on the front page, it has no news content, and comprises a simple frontal assault on the judiciary, likening its perceived efforts to ‘attain political power’ over the nation to Mao Zedong’s Long March. The connection with Maoism/communism is established in the first sentence. Italy, we learn, does not have a mundanely inefficient legal system to be improved by systemic change, but an extremist, personal, visceral political conspiracy against the Italian people (to wit, Sil and his businesses).

Here are some current icons from Berlusconi’s PDL/FI site:

banner-forzasilvio pdl-logo 20ANNI-DI-CACCIA-UOMO 995980_621688441198598_1936708951_n 998453_620420304658745_378895156_n 998913_622166501150792_278588033_n 1097945_620420421325400_707118344_n slide-1-638

The manner in which Berlusconi’s personal interests, those of the Mediaset group he controls, and national politics are conflated is bewildering for anyone from the First World. But of course this is not the First World. Next month Sil will relaunch Forza Italia (FT, sub needed), his original political movement named for a football chant (in the country that now boasts the worst record of football violence and racism in western Europe). ‘Ancora in campo’ / Back on the Field is the new tag line.

To me the strategy looks more than a little fascistic, involving as it does an attack on the institutions of the state and promises of more direct action. However, as the holidays wind down I suspect that we won’t see a proto-fascist movement take hold in Italy. Instead we will see business as usual.  The main evidence of Sil’s promised campaign of direct action so far (the plan on the beaches described here in the FT, sub needed) is a few Forza Italia militants in Rome (here telling journalists they have not been paid to march, that they are ‘spontaneous volunteers’ and that they have ‘just come for Him [Sil]’) and a pisspoor little plane dragging a bit of superannuated toilet paper above a few holidaymakers. ‘Forza Italia, Forza Sil’, I think it says.

I don’t want to do you down Sil, but I’m not sure you’ve really got the fascist cojones for this thing….

Forza Italia sul ferragosto 2013

Meanwhile, my own experience with abuse of state power occurs when I stop at Sasso, the bar on the river on the way to Citta di Castelllo. Despite the fact that there were few people around when I stopped, and lots of safe parking available, a carabinieri police car was parked across the zebra crossing that leads to the children’s playground, with two wheels outside the white parking line and hence well into the road. Thinking this a bit slack, even by Italian police standards, I took a photo on my phone. Walking into the bar, I found two carabinieri eating cream buns. I bought a small bottle of cold water and went outside to drink it in the sun.

While I was doing this, it seems one of regular clients at the bar told the carabinieri I had taken a photo. One of the carabinieri came over and demanded ‘a document’. Of course, I said, handing him my EU photo driving licence. He took it away and wrote down all the details, resting on the boot of his car. Then he came back and said: ‘I have taken down all your details because you took a photo.’ I replied: ‘Yes I did take a photo because of the way you parked.’ The policeman responded: ‘You have no idea what business we are engaged on here.’ I resisted the urge to reply: ‘It looked like you were engaged in eating cream buns.’ Both policemen were standing over me, not completely in my face, but close enough to make me feel uncomfortable.

The officers then made a series of threats:

1. ‘We have your details. If that photo is published on the Internet [he only seemed concerned about the Internet] we know who you are.’ I replied that I have no problem with them knowing who I am.

2. [from the second carabinieri, thinner and younger]: ‘That is a MILITARY vehicle. Do you understand?’ I replied that I am fully aware that the carabinieri is a para-military force.

3. The first officer mentioned seizing my phone (the verb he employed was ‘sequestrare’). I remained impassive, just looked him in the eye. There were a few people around the bar (maybe 8), plus the female boss, whom I have known for years. He didn’t take the phone in the end, just saying: ‘Get rid of that photo or I will seize your phone.’ I said nothing.

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At this point the policemen appeared to run out of threats. They went back to their car, got in it, turned around, and followed me to Citta di Castello, before turning off in the direction of the police station. Should I complain to the justice system or should I launch a proto-fascist programme of direct action? Thankfully this dilemma no longer presents itself. I now live in Cambridge. I think I’ll just go home.

More:

If you would like to harass people on street corners until Silvio is let off his felony, you should be able to sign up at the site below. (Latest talk is of a general amnesty for convicted felons facing up to as much as four years’ jail time. This would be a triple triumph — saving money spent on prisons, reducing Italy’s huge trial waiting lists, and getting Sil off his fraud sentence (plus other sentences that may soon follow). The only downside would be to put a few thousand crooks, some of them violent, back on the streets. What is not to like?)

ForzaSilvio.it

When Britain was like Italy

April 21, 2013

A day in London allows for a few minutes talking about How Asia Works on CNBC here, and a longer discussion on the UK’s Monocle Radio ‘Globalist’ programme, (beginning at the 16 minute mark).

In between I decide to spend a couple of hours wandering the corridors of the Royal Courts of Justice, as the large building that contains the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal on The Strand is confusingly called. The place is of interest to anyone who wants to understand the need to constantly reform institutions. In particular, Italians should visit this building. It was constructed in the late 19th century to stop the British justice system being what Italy’s is today.

Law Royal Courts panorama

Before anyone enters, the essential book to read is Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, probably his greatest, which centres on a legal case that has multiplied and gone on for so long that no one can really remember exactly what the case is about, or quite why it started. People just attend hearings because the case(s) has(ve) taken on life(ves) of its(their) own. All that is clearly remembered is that the whole, huge, expensive, draining, painful affair concerns the Jarndyce family, which is enshrined in the case name, Jarndyce v Jarndyce. The different sides of the Jarndyce family just do what the lawyers tell them, and the case does not end until it has consumed all the family’s money, and caused the death of a sympathetic character, because the system makes it possible for cases never to end.

Things were so bad in the British legal system by the 1860s — students of development should note that this had not stopped the British economy growing and becoming the world’s most powerful — that there was eventually a cross-party consensus that radical reform was necessary. A royal commission (essentially an independent review) was set up to consolidate a morass of different legal institutions under one roof, streamline procedures and simplify judicial processes so that the system worked. The Royal Courts of Justice, which opened with their 18 (now 88) courts in 1882, shunted Britain on from the world of Bleak House. Opening the court, Queen Victoria’s speech stated the aim was to ‘conduce to the more speedy and efficient administration of justice’.

Almost always, you can just wander in to a court here and sit down and listen to what is going on. I spent half an hour observing the goings on in each of two randomly selected courtrooms. In Italy, I haven’t seen courtrooms beyond the provincial level (except on television). But some very loose points of comparison can be offered. Here in London there is no chatting during court proceedings, no playing around with mobile phones, no lawyers saying hello to their friends and colleagues in court while ignoring their clients, no male lawyers dedicating their working day to trying to flirt with any woman in sight. And everything is taped. When I once asked to tape record proceedings in an Italian court the judge grudgingly acceded, but with a look that suggested I was proposing a coup d’etat.

Unlike Italian courts, the Royal Courts give a sense of being places where stuff gets done. This is not to say that there isn’t plenty wrong with the justice system in the UK. However, compared with Italy, this is the modern world. The Royal Courts are a living museum of institutional development that is well worth a visit. For the kids, there is a room displaying all the silly outfits that judges and lawyers have worn over the years — and thankfully wear less of these days. The grown-up exhibit is the institutional progress captured in quite a beautiful building with its varied, interesting and business-like courtrooms.

Could Italy have the same thing in the foreseeable future? One way to consider this is to remember that the leaders who made the British reforms of the 1870s possible were Gladstone and Disraeli, working in concert. Would you consider that any of the putative ‘reformers’ of contemporary Italian politics — Monti,Berlusconi, Bersani, or Grillo — is in their league?

More

Imagine this in Italy: Edwin Wilkins Field, one of the key reformers and the Secretary to the royal commission of 1865 on the Royal Courts of Justice, declined remuneration!

Evolution continues: didn’t have time to go see it, but the latest addition to the Royal Courts is the Rolls Building, opened in 2011.

The Disneyland within Disneyland

March 26, 2013

Ital election Mickey face

Italian laywer toga

Upset, perhaps, that Italian politics is grabbing all the attention in the wake of recent elections, Italy’s judges are making a bold move to have the spotlight of international incredulity shine once more on their egomaniacal antics.

The national appeals court, the Court of Cassation, has sent the Meredith Kercher murder case back for a third trial, this time in Florence.

The headline reason (we won’t get the detailed ‘reasoning’ for up to 90 days) is that elements of the second trial were not conducted according to proper procedure.

To which the only response is: perhaps, but this is Italy, the Land of Unprofessionalism, where nothing is done entirely according to the rules.

On the other hand, the evidence that Sollecito and Knox were not responsible for the murder, that Rudy Guede was, and that police and magistrates broke countless laws in the course of the investigation and trial, is incontrovertible.

Nothing can now change the fact that the investigation of Meredith Kercher’s murder was staggeringly unprofessional, and that the handling of the physical evidence was disastrous.

These facts should have pointed Italy’s judiciary and its politicians to the need for urgent, radical reforms to the judicial and police systems (as recommended by the EU Commission, see below). Instead they are creating additional unnecessary pain for a large group of people, most obviously the victim’s family. And as ever in Italy, it is all done behind a gossamer veil of ‘propriety’.

More:

Guardian on the Court of Cassation decision.

In a report by the EU Commission last year, the human rights commissioner condemned the length of proceedings and the inefficiency of the Italian legal system, noting: ‘The complexity and magnitude of the problem is such that Italy needs nothing short of a holistic rethinking of its judicial and procedural system, as well as a shift in judicial culture, with a concerted effort from the Ministry of Justice and the High Council of the Judiciary, as well as judges, prosecutors and lawyers.’ Moreover, he said the problems are as much the fault of a self-serving judiciary as of politicians who fail to make judicial reforms: ‘While legislative action is necessary, it is not sufficient and should be complemented with organisational and management aspects for courts and judges, in line with the relevant guidelines of the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice. Existing examples, such as the experience of the First Instance Court of Turin, prove that good results can thus be obtained even within the current framework and without additional financial or human resources.’

In just over a month, Amanda Knox’s book about her experiences in Perugia will be out. One assumes that Giuliano Mignini will fire her off one of his suits for criminal defamation, as he did when Sollecito’s book was published.

To go left, Italy first needs to turn right

March 11, 2013

It is political impasse in Italy. In the fourth quarter the economy shrank by 2.8 per cent compared with a year earlier; it has been in recession for the best part of two years and shows no sign of improving.

Pier Luigi Bersani is trying to form a government, but no Italian can say with conviction that the left offers a way out of Italy’s morass. It is a pipedream to think the country can pursue a ‘left-wing’ economic strategy that requires a high level of social trust and professional conduct among the population.

Trust and professionalism barely exist in Italy. This is not Germany, or one of the Scandinavian countries. It is a nation where lawyers and accountants lead the way in cheating their taxes. There is no foundation on which to build a socially advanced economy.

To construct such a foundation, Italy has to turn right if it wants to arrive on the left. The labour market must be deregulated so that older people do not retain jobs at the expense of mass unemployment for the young. The structure of the judiciary must be turned upside down and the professional classes held to account so they begin to provide some basic moral leadership for the country. Stuff like not taking cash payments for legal work or reflexively advising clients how to dodge their taxes.

The era when Italy needed bureaucracy in order to guide its economic take-off is long gone. Now Italy needs meritocracy and responsbility — from its professional classes and from its organised labour. The country is simply too backward to progress by moving left. First it has to go right. Which is why Beppe Grillo was correct on Monday to threaten to leave politics if M5S forms a government with Bersani.

The real problem is that Italy does not have an economic ‘right’. Berlusconi did almost nothing to restructure the economy in four terms of power. He is mainly right-wing in the sense that he is crass, racist and contemptuous of ordinary people. Monti is also not of the economic right. He is patrician, a veteran of the old Italian developmental state and the new, more northern European politics of Brussels.

 

More:

Fitch downgraded Italy again on Friday (FT sub needed).

 

The dog has it

February 25, 2013

As polls closed in Disneyland today, it looked like the big winner was Goofy. And why not? Given the choice between Mickey Mouse, Mini Mouse and Donald Duck, I might well have voted for Goofy myself.

The result puts Disneyland right back at the centre of global entertainment. All that stuff about a post-global crisis return to normality was so much hot air. It is time to tune in for the next episode of the Disney story — the biggest, most unbelievable, most enduring cartoon of them all.

Ital election goofy

Ital election grillo red beret

Ital election Grillo votes buffon

That is sooo not all folks!

See where Goofy’s votes came from:

This graphic from Corriere della Sera is useful. It shows the fall in the popular vote for, in turn, Berlusconi’s mob, Berlusconi’s pro-fascist Northern League allies, Bersani’s mob, and the rump of the Christian Democrats (UDC).  All the ‘traditional’ parties haemorrhaged votes. In terms of what people who turned away from the traditional parties did, around half of Beppe Grillo’s vote came from the centre left Democratic Party. To me, that says Bersani has to go. But of course he won’t go, because Italian politicians of the left don’t understand principle any more than ones from the right.

Books about Salem I

September 19, 2012

Raffaele Sollecito’s book about his experiences in Italy’s witch-burning capital (and until recently my provincial capital), Perugia, is out. I haven’t read it, but The Guardian has an early review.

There are no surprises about the tales of police brutality and incompetence, which I have discussed at length under the ‘Italy to Avoid’ tab.

The one thing that grabs me is that Sollecito says both his family and his lawyers urged him to not to provide evidence in support of Amanda Knox in the hope that the police might let him off (because all they really wanted to do was convict a witch). That is the Italian parenting and the Italian lawyers we know and love. It also explains Sollecito’s evidence in court that he ‘couldn’t remember’ precise details of Knox’s movements the night of the murder. He found some sort of moral half-way house between honesty and the demands of his family and lawyers.

Amanda Knox’s book, out next year, will be much more interesting than this one. It looks like she is taking the time to give Perugia and the Italian judicial system the deconstruction they deserve.

La mamma severa

September 3, 2012

Queuing on the south side of the San Gottardo tunnel in Switzerland surrounded by Dutch and German cars, I wonder whether my fellow travellers have been convinced by their summer sojourns in Italy that their southern neighbour is changing. Myself, I cannot see it. Italy is miserable from the cuts that have been going on for years. But structurally the story is the same. In this respect, Mario Monti appears to be a continuation of Silvio Berlusconi, minus the bunga bunga.

What has Monti done? A labour law that no one in Italy believes is more liberal than the old one. Nothing to simplify legislation, the tax regime, or the bureaucracy. And absolutely nothing to create a functioning, more efficient judicial system. Just budget cuts. In sum: Berlusconi 2.0.

I am sitting in a German petrol station pondering this when I realise I have to get out of my car to fill it up with LPG. Unlike in Italy, there is no law in Germany that mandates that only a petrol station employee can fill a car up with gas. I glance wistfully over my shoulder, recognising that feudalism has its upside.

Mr Market, meanwhile, is feeling quite sanguine, having convinced himself that Frau Merkel is readying her cheque-book to bail Italy out. Or at least being ready to let Flexible Mario at the ECB write the cheque. The ECB is to announce the latest terms of its support for so-called ‘peripheral’ countries later this week.

Mr Market, methinks, underestimates Frau Merkel. Italians have been asking for 20 years for a northern European mamma who will put the kibosh on their bad habits, and I suspect they are to be rudely surprised by getting what they wished for. One way or another, with the failure of Monti, a bunch of Germans and IMF folk are going to end up moving to Rome to oversee the structural reforms that Italy requires. Either that, or it’s out of the Euro.

Related posts:

Why Super Mario is made of paper. As his 2012 budget foretold. My own cunning plan to solve the Italian debt crisis. How the buck stops in Paris.  The global picture of what we are dealing with. Why you should never listen to the Brits about Europe.


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