It was a hit and a miss for the Italian courts in October. On the one hand, in Milan, Silvio Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud, sentenced to a year in jail, ordered to pay damages of €10 million and barred from public office for three years. The Economist, welcoming the verdict, looked back at Berlusconi’s entrance onto the political stage in 1994: ‘The footage of the dashing entrepreneur promising hope, renewal and good government now seems surreal.’ When didn’t it? On the other hand, in L’Aquila, six scientists and a former government official were found guilty of manslaughter because of what they said, or didn’t say, or were reported as saying, shortly before the earthquake that killed 309 people on 6 April 2009. They were each sentenced to six years in prison, ordered to pay damages of €7.8 million between them and all permanently barred from public office. An editorial in Nature put it succinctly: ‘the verdict is perverse and the sentence ludicrous.’ As in Berlusconi’s case, the verdict may yet be overturned: the defendants have two opportunities to appeal, and the sentences will only come into effect if and when both appeals have been rejected. The judge who found the seismologists guilty hasn’t yet published his reasoning – he gets three months to write it up – but a clear account of how they came to be in the dock in the first place appeared in Nature (No 477) just before the trial began last year.
LRB 22 November 2012 | PDF Download