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Aug. 2, Justice Being Negotiated

It worries me greatly that — as soon as Berlusconi’s conviction was handed down — his fate has become a subject of political negotiation. Nothing in Italian justice is ever clear. The court rather than taking final responsibility for banning Berlusconi for public life has kicked the can back to Milan for “revision” and recalculation of his penalty. No sooner said than feverish negotiations begin. Berlusconi’s party threatens to bring down the government unless something is done. Justice should not be negotiated. If you’re guilty, pay the price.

The right — in particular Berlusconi’s Il Giornale — writes that democracy in Italy has been decapitated on the wild theory that getting elected to office places you above the law. Popular American politicians — Marion Barry, Gov. Edwards of Louisiana — have been elected, convicted and re-elected — but still had to serve their terms. Justice should not be up for political negotiation, although of course it has been constantly during the last twenty years when a criminal defendant (Berlusconi) entered politics and began legislating away a lot of the Italian penal code that bore directly on his case. The fact that he did not spend last night in prison — as an ordinary defendant would — and is unlikely to do so ever depends on a law he helped push, with the accommodation of a center-left government, that establishes that someone over 70 shouldn’t go to prison when convicted of a first offense, unless for certain particularly dangerous offenses. The law was worked out to keep Berlusconi’s close friend and lawyer, who had been convicted of buying judges for Berlusconi, from going to prison. He might have gotten lonely and talkative if he had had to spend time in a prison cell. Enough of the political system negotiating justice.

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