Several friends and acquaintances have asked me about a certain matter which appears to have returned with a vengeance.

It’s to do with Italian law and that impressive phrase ‘la legge è uguale per tutti’ which may be read in any Italian court room. The law may be equal (i.e. the same) for everyone but the verdicts that a judge may issue are not the same that one usually encounters in an English court of law. This is largely due to the fact that English law is based on Common Law and largely refers to previous cases for clarification of outcomes in trials or formulates new cases based on the judge’s decisions.

Italian law is based on Roman, or codified, law and is also influenced by the ‘Code Napoleon’. In 1990, however, the inquisitorial show-the-instruments method was replaced by the accusatory system more usual in those countries using Common Law.

In England one can be found either guilty or not guilty. In Scottish law there is a third option ‘not proven’ which means that the judge may think that defendant could be guilty of the offence but has no firm evidence to charge him for it. This is an old option and many judicial people in Scotland prefer not to use it since a taint of guiltiness may rest on the acquitted one even if he has not been accused of any crime.

In Italy the situation is rather different. True, an accused person may be either found guilty and convicted of a crime or found not guilty and acquitted of the crime:


The problem starts because there are five degrees of acquittal.  The following chart (which uses also the Italian words to explain what means what just in case one of my readers finds him/herself in a tribunal for any penal offence  – God forbid they do but one never knows) tries to explain the Italian situation:

The following are the only verdicts that a Judge can pass at the end of a trial.

Verdict Specification Meaning
Guilty (colpevole) Conviction (condanna)   The defendant is found guilty and is, thereby, sentenced by the Judge
Not Guilty (non colpevole) Acquittal (assoluzione) Perché il fatto non sussiste Because the action the defendant was alleged to have committed never took place
  Perché l’imputato non lo ha commesso Because the action allegedly committed by the defendant was actually committed by another party
  Perché il fatto non costituisce reato Because the action committed by the defendant is not considered a crime, for he was excused (e.g. self defence)
  Perché il fatto non è previsto dalla Legge come reato Because the law no longer considers the action committed by the defendant to be a crime
  Perché l’imputato non è punibile Because the defendant is not liable for his crime, because he was insane at the time.


I hope this explains a very important difference between English and Italian law if you ever get caught up in a penal procedure. Now, in the case of a civil one….


2 thoughts on “Absolution

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