Chris Bertram over at Crooked Timber directs us to this article on the state of affairs in Italy, on the eve of elections, in Sign and Sight.
Currently there are only three weak points: the economy, the judiciary and the electorate. The economy, of all things, is the Achilles’ heel of the prime businessman. His own companies’ profits have tripled during this parliament, but the country is going to the dogs. Italy has wilted year after year and now has the worst statistics in Europe. Growth 0.0 percent.
Second comes the judiciary, Frattini’s department. For five years the judicial system has faced the sharpest attacks and most blatant “reforms”. These days the minister of justice – currently a road engineer from the Lega Nord, or Northern League – can accuse judges of “gross misjudgement” and subject them to disciplinary punishments. He has the power to move cases to courts where he believes the judges to be more obliging. International legal assistance has been decisively restricted to impede investigations against Berlusconi’s business empire. Prosecutors investigating the Mafia lose their bodyguards, as a cost-cutting measure of course. And the prime minister himself can slander and defame judges and state prosecutors week in week out. But all that is nothing compared to the so-called judicial reform of 2005, which amounted to a “victory of the thieves” (Süddeutsche Zeitung) – silently tolerated by Frattini and the European institutions.
In the Italian legal system cases drag on endlessly and most never come to a conclusion. A World Bank report of 2004 on the efficiency of the legal system put Italy in 135th place – second last, just ahead of Guatemala. The main reason is that the limitation period for crimes continues to run after a trial has opened, and even after a verdict has been passed, right up until the final day of the final instance. Consequently lawyers try to prolong legal proceedings as long as possible. In 2004 alone 210,000 cases fell under the statute of limitations. The perfect scenario for well-off defendants to get away scot-free. Berlusconi himself has profited this way several times.