legal system

Silvio Berlusconi attends the presentation of the book "The big cheat" by Renato Brunetta (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/GettyImages)

Following a Berlusconi trial is like going to the theatre — it is your civic right to enjoy a spectacle even though you know perfectly well the act bears no relation to reality.

Very little about Silvio Berlusconi, or about the Italian legal system, is quite what it seems. The four-year prison term to which the former prime minister was sentenced on Friday for tax fraud is a good example. There is next to no chance that he will go to jail. The likelihood that he will ever be definitively convicted of this particular offence is not much higher.

Contrary to what he and his devotees might think, the reason is not that he is a paragon of virtue. Nor is it that the Italian courts always uncover the truth in the end. It is rather that the three-tier judicial system operates so slowly that, even if a defendant is eventually found guilty in the highest appeals court, the case has been going on for so long that a statute of limitations kicks in. Read more