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Are judges ignoring the law and reaching verdicts based on public opinion?

I’m not sure just how worrying the fact that I have typed that title is. I think it’s extremely worrying that it is a legitimate question. Let me tell you the story behind the title as seven men are sentenced to jail for not predicting a deadly earthquake. Yes you read that right. Seven men have been sentenced to jail because they didn’t predict an earthquake.

An earthquake in the small Italian town of L’Aquila in 2009 led to the deaths of 309 people. A tragedy for all involved but how did the six scientists and one government official who visited the town six days prior after two minor shocks end up in the dock? Well they predicted that there wouldn’t be a major quake in the town. They felt that the two minor quakes were not a wake-up for a fault line but more of an adjustment. They didn’t make this prediction based on blind hope. They used all the available resources at their disposal but as we all know predicting things like earthquakes or volcano eruptions or tornadoes are not perfected as yet. Heck do the Met Office get the weather right every day?

So we all know this. We know that predicting events that haven’t happened yet is a bit of a lottery. So we couldn’t ever blame these scientists for getting it wrong, could we? Well the Italian justice system did and has and yesterday they were convicted of 309 counts of manslaughter. Due to the way the Italian legal system is set up the men are free until appeals are heard and in all likelihood they will be acquitted on appeal because the charges are just absurd but as it stands they all face two years inside for their role in failing to predict a deadly earthquake.

I know we all hate the Daily Mail but in Michael Hanlon’s blog on their website he makes some excellent points:

It has been argued that they could have been more circumspect. Perhaps, but even so a criminal conviction (let alone a jail term) is absurd. They will appeal, and will probably be acquitted, but even so this coming from a country which gave us the Renaissance (and which to this day has a hugely impressive record in science and engineering) is a chilling reminder that we cannot take the Enlightenment for granted. It comes on the heels of another Italian verdict, this time by the High Court that mobile phones can cause brain cancer – despite there not being a shred of evidence that they do. What is happening is that judges are reflecting public opinion, not evidence. A disturbing trend we are seeing, and not just in Italy.

The legal system is not in place to carry the will of the masses. We left that behind centuries ago. However events such as these make me believe that even in fully democratic and modernised countries judges are ignoring logic and common sense and making decisions based on both their own personal opinion and the feeling of the public around them. There is no way anyone could ever blame these men for not being able to predict an earthquake. Yes they said that they believed there wouldn’t be a major quake and they were wrong and it led to people dying but can you really lay the blame of an supposed ‘Act of God’ at the feet of these mortals?

No. No you simply cannot. This verdict was reached simply because that was the strength of public opinion in the area because so many had been affected by the earthquake. The verdict was not reached because it was the right verdict to give. This is yet another example of the way the legal system is going and it is extremely worrying.

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  1. Botzarelli Botzarelli

    “The legal system”? This could be a comment on the Italian legal system, but without knowing the specifics of the criminal offences and how they are interpreted according to the Italian constitution it is a bit of a leap to make the conclusions you make. It would be a big leap to go from there to generalising it to a critique of any other legal system.

    • neilmonnery neilmonnery

      Well what about the case where they decided mobile phones cause brain cancer despite no scientific evidence supporting it? Was that a coincidence that it was a huge political issue at the time?

      Manslaughter in this country – as in every other country doesn’t cover an ‘Act of God’ – if you are struck by lightning then the weatherman who didn’t predict the thunderstorm on the local weather report is not responsible. Earthquakes are deemed as such and therefore any criminal conviction directly relating to it is on dodgy ground (pardon the pun) let alone a conviction for manslaughter for just not predicting it.

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