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.