Pillars of Continental justice: what reasonable doubt?

In the Stasi (Garlasco) case, Italy’s supreme court (the Cassazione) opined:

[I]t is not possible to come to a result, be it conviction or acquittal, characterized by coherence, believability and reason.

When the prosecution’s case does not make sense, reasonable doubt has been established. The only possible verdict is “not guilty”.

Not in Italy. The supreme court quashed the lower court’s acquittal and sent the case for another trial.

Why? I would offer that, despite attempts at reform, Italy’s criminal justice system remains inquisitorial at core. The word conjures up racks and thumbscrews but actually refers to trial as a judge-directed inquiry, rather than a judge-moderated dispute. If the goal is to “find the truth” – rather than critically examine the prosecution’s theory – God help the defendant!

The Russian system is superficially similar to Italy’s but it doesn’t even pretend to care for truth. However Russia does have, for a limited number of serious charges, trial by jury, whereas Italy only has mixed panels where lay judges sit together with professional judges, providing a modicum of popular participation.


  1. Nobody knows exactly why the witch-hunting craze broke out in Western Europe between the 15th and 17th centuries, but one thing that is believed to have increased the number of convictions is the replacement of an accusatorial legal system with an inquisitorial one. That and the reintroduction of torture as a way of collecting evidence.

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