Continental Justice?

Image: Amanda Knox prepares to leave the set following a television interview Friday in New York.

The Amanda Knox case raises important questions about trans-national prosecutions, and indeed about EU policy.  We all, of course, feel enormous sympathy for the family of the victim Meredith Kercher, who have lost a daughter and a sister in the most appalling circumstances.  They are entitled to demand justice.  But they are not, in my view, entitled to demand the punishment of the accused while serious doubts about the case remain.  I hope they take some comfort from the fact that a man who undoubtedly was guilty, Rudy Guede, is in fact in jail serving a 30 year term for Meredith’s murder.

I am not a legal expert, nor have I followed the case beyond reading the press coverage, but it seems clear that considerable doubt remains over the guilt or innocence of Amanda Knox.  A colleague who advises UKIP in Brussels, and is a former barrister, assures me that no British jury would have convicted on the evidence presented in Florence.  If she is innocent, then she has been subjected to the most appalling nightmare over many years, which will inevitably blight an otherwise promising young life.

A particular problem that will exercise British minds is the practice under Italian law of allowing the prosecution to appeal against an acquittal.  In the UK, we are free to appeal against conviction, but an acquittal is an acquittal.  The Italian practice can extend indefinitely the trial of someone who may well in the end be proven innocent.  Certainly if there was an acquittal first time round, then there must be serious doubts about the case.  And while not technically “double jeopardy”, the appealing of an acquittal certainly feels a lot like it.  It is merely a question of semantics whether the subsequent procedure is an extension of the previous trial, or an entirely new trial.

It seems to me that in this case (and I admit I am no expert) the Court in Florence has applied the test of “balance of probabilities” (appropriate to civil actions) in a criminal case where (in the UK at least) the test is “beyond reasonable doubt”.  I daresay that Knox’s defence team would argue that she should be found Not Guilty even on the balance of probabilities.  I find it inconceivable that her guilt has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

A question for the Kercher family.  They are reported as demanding that Knox return to Italy to serve her sentence.  They are also quoted as saying that “They may never know” exactly what happened to Meredith on that fateful night.  If they don’t know what happened (and perhaps no one knows), how can they call for a young woman to go to jail for decades for a crime she may not have committed?

So what happens next?  It seems likely that Italy will call for Knox’s extradition from the USA.  And the USA will come under huge and understandable public pressure to resist.  Even in the best case, that the USA says No, Amanda Knox will be virtually unable to leave the USA for the rest of her life, for fear of arrest on foreign soil (though as most Americans never leave the USA anyway, perhaps that’s not too tough a restriction).

And the EU angle?  Imagine in this scenario that Amanda Knox had been not an American, but a Brit.  There would have been no question of the British authorities being able to take a view on the evidence and decide on the merits of the case, as I hope the USA will do.  No.  No safeguards.  No checks and balances.  There would be a European Arrest Warrant, and she would be handed over without due process in British courts, without question or delay.  Because of our EU membership, British citizens now have less protection in these circumstances than American citizens. We can be sent abroad at the whim of a foreign magistrate to face a legal system which may well work for the country that operates it, but which runs counter to judicial practices and protections which we in Britain expect, and which we cherish.  Yet another reason why we shall be Better Off Out. 

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13 Responses to Continental Justice?

  1. As you say another, unconnected person is in jail for the crime. There is no reason to asuume her guilt.

    I think you are technically wrong to say she was found innocent 1st time, this was the 3rd trial – she was found guilty 2st time and innocent 2nd. This does not weaken the principle against imprisonment.

    Of course when there are political connections people don’t get extradited. Recently somebody responsible for a mass murder inn Bosnia was arrested in Britain on an Interpol warrant but released. Of course the people he murdered were Serb “Untermensch” so that, it appears, makes it OK.

  2. silverminer says:

    The incompatibility of the European, civil law, system of justice and the British, common law, system is an issue which need to be highlighted by UKIP at every opportunity. If things continue as they are, the day when the Englishman walks into a court accused of a serious crime and finds not jury of our peers, just a prosecutor and a judge, both employees of the State, is not so far away.

    • Ex-expat Colin says:

      Could not agree more. The peers here in UK are my 1st worry..selected at random. Closely followed by ambulance chasers of the so called legal profession. Judges who can’t judge adequately. Parliament that has handed over our very own hard gained legal rights as UK citizens. Why on earth would you give that is distinct and above other nations and informed them.

      Strange stuff, but time for big change.

  3. catalanbrian says:

    I agree pretty much with you that the case against Amanda Knox has been appallingly (and unfairly) handled by the Italian authorities, but that is no excuse to criticise the European Arrest Warrant which has nothing whatsoever to do with it. That, I suppose is what I should expect from UKIP.

    • Me_Again says:

      yep you should. Perfectly justified criticism too.

    • I’d be interested to know, Catalanbrian, why you can’t see the obvious relevance of this case to the EAW. We in the UK have compromised the first duty of the State, which is to protect its citizens. And I hope I’ve demonstrated how continental justice doesn’t always match British standards and expectations.

      • catalanbrian says:

        You have, it would seem deliberately, misunderstood what I said. Amanda Knox is American and is not subject to arrest under the EAW. You have misleadingly conflated two issues which are unrelated. That of the apparent injustice of the Amanda Knox case, and I have no beef with you here, and that of the EAW/EU, an unrelated matter. That is misleading and is not worthy of a representative of the British people. I hasten to add that I am not a supporter of the EAW for pretty much the same reasons as you, but just one piece of unsatisfactory legislation does not necessarily mean that the overall concept of he EU is wrong.

    • willing says:

      What do you expect from UKIP…praise for the fact that consecutive UK governments have betrayed the people they purport to serve, by quietly signing away those essential elements which served to give the UK its autonomy…its right to self determination? Praise for agreements signed by UK governments which mean 70% of UK laws are decided by or undermined by unelected foreigners in Brussels or Strasbourg, while the people of the UK have been consistently denied the say in their future to which they have a right? What do you expect from UKIP that might be unexpected?

    • Sean O'Hare says:

      I am surprised that you cannot see the connection between the Amanda Knox case and the EAW. It is obvious to me that if Amanda Knox has been unfairly dealt with by an Italian court then by implication Italian courts have an inferior system of justice to that of the UK. The EAW exposes UK subjects to the vagaries of such courts and is therefore not to be tolerated.

  4. ian wragg says:

    What about Richard Norths blog re- deliberate flooding of the Levels due tom EU directive. I think you should follow this up. Is it a deliberate attempt to destroy our agriculture to0 give the French an advantage. What are the Dutch doing for their share.

  5. Ex-expat Colin says:

    As far as I am concerned anything south of Germany is pretty much the Middle East. I know and have seen what happens in places past the Med also. Silly boys with guns largely – the police, sucking on there Motorola radio dummy tits (the antenna).

    Having served in NATO I note that all European police forces carry very good hand guns, some on borders with rifles (silly boys again). I have always wondered about that where our police/borders don’t – thankfully, having seen the UK police’s general handiwork of recent times.

    The performance of courts (various) is a big worry where you might try to gauge it across many countries (EU). EAW is wrong and I say that where Assange is concerned as well. I do not, and will not trust a foreign process (unless I assessed it 1st)…no matter how many times a politician says that as a result of EU construction, everything is unified and safe. Italy is a nice place, but would anybody with an ounce (gram) of sense trust their authorities. My experience from travelling there is largely…. No.

    Roger says it as it is!

  6. willing says:

    From the reports on this case, I read that Knox has been less than open and honest before and during her trial, and that she accused a black small businessman of the murder. The man was arrested and held for two weeks, and after release lost his business, and is now unemployed. It seems to me that whilst it is possible she is not guilty of the crime, she is not an innocent party in this.

    That being said, I agree with you that it is an outrageous truth that UK citizens enjoy less protection than US citizens, because of our ongoing membership of Europe, and is yet another reason of many why we should find the exit door at the earliest opportunity

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