Strasbourg admonishes Italy for life sentence

The European Court of Human Rights has exhorted Rome to reform its law on life imprisonment. Currently, prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment for particularly grave crimes can only be released early if they cooperate with the judiciary. The court has now ruled that this practice contravenes the European Human Rights Convention. But is the ruling compatible with Italy's reality?

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La Stampa (IT) /

Judges do not understand the Mafia

Mafia expert Francesco La Licata explains in La Stampa why the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights will be without consequence in Italy:

“The ruling is the result of a legal culture that is a far cry from our history. The Strasbourg judges do not understand the criminal Mafia organisations, which controlled at least a third of the south of country before Italy became a single state. The possibility of a prisoner reforming is simply unthinkable in the case of an imperturbable Mafioso (i.e. one who does not collaborate with the judiciary). If he has never shown remorse, then he remains bound for life by the blood oath that he swore when he joined the 'family'.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

The old rules are outdated

Life sentences and solitary confinement were introduced temporarily in Italy in the early 1990s following Mafia murders of members of the judiciary and politicians. Both of these provisions have become permanent over time. It is high time this changed, sociologist Luigi Manconi counters in La Repubblica, praising the Strasbourg ruling:

“The legitimate misgivings of those who fear that Mafia bosses could benefit from a possible abolition of life imprisonment need to be taken seriously, but the right answer should be a different one: an evaluation of whether a social danger still exists. ... The point is to move from an automatic principle to an analytical judgement, which excludes no-one in advance – and hence definitively – from the possibility of remorse. … This would demonstrate unequivocally the legal and moral superiority of the state based on the rule of law over its enemies.”