The baffling decision by a tribunal of the southern Italian city of L’Aquila, condemning to 6 years in jail for involuntary manslaughter a group of scientists, accused to have failed to forecast an earthquake – the news went around the world, rightly covering the Italian legal system with ridicule – had been reversed yesterday in appeal.
The team of scientists called ‘Commission Great Risks’ had met on March 31, 2009, five days before the earthquake which killed 309 people, to evaluate data about a series of light tremors which were recorded by seismographs. They then assured the population, not officially but at a personal level, that all was all right, to stay calm and don’t panic. They were accused of ‘false assurances’ a crime which do not appear in any legal code of any country.
This sentence of absolution has been met with disbelief by the relatives of the victims and even by politicians. Politicians are those who should have taken care of the safety of the buildings which had collapsed and instruct all the citizens on what they should do if there would be an earthquake, like they do in Japan with schoolchildren. While it is understandable the airing of grief by the victims’ relatives and a little bit less is the indignation of those politicians while speaking to the press. It has always been easier to ‘kill the astrologer’ than planning properly for an emergency.
According to Italy’s justice system there is a first degree, then the appeal and then the losers will try the Court of Cassation. Because of this, theoretically, the scientists Bernardo De Bernardinis, Giulio Selvaggi, Franco Barberi, Enzo Boschi, Mauro Dolce, Claudio Eva, Michele Calvi may still end up in jail for this supposed crime. Only De Bernardis, a local head of the ‘Civil Protection unit’ received a suspended sentence of two years. The city of L’Aquila is historically prone to earthquakes.
The judges who had condemned the accused in the first place had clearly bent to popular pressure, which bring back to my mind my pet idea about how to pass sentences. We should take out judgement for complex cases from human judges and entrust the judgment to supercomputers. All sentences, commas, debate, counter debates should be loaded into a supercomputer and then we should ask for a sentence. In a fraction of a second – not months and years – we should get the judgment with the motivations together with the mitigating or aggravating factors. Then such judgment should be scrutinized by a team of wise men detached from the place and the people involved, holding the power to accept it or object to it. Thus no 2003 Space Odyssey and no Big Brother effect would be called into play. I do believe that this is possible and, after the initial glitches, will be good for us all. All mistakes due to human weakness, laziness, false impressions, emotions would be avoided.