Much has been made about the supposed failings of the Italian judiciary to provide a fair trial for Amanda Knox: how the jury were free to read salacious gossip about Knox's sex life; how Giuliano Mignini, Perugia's theatrical public prosecutor, was allowed to sum up his case with imaginative suggestions and an animated film. But these judicial eccentricities were not the reason that Knox was sent to prison. Knox was found guilty because of the inconsistencies in her defence, and because her DNA was found on the supposed murder weapon. While Italian judges are obliged to allow rhetorical flourishes – from both prosecution and defence – they have learned to discount them.
Nor is the Italian criminal justice system inherently faulty. A mix of French inquisitorial procedures and Anglo-Saxon adversarial ones, this system does lead to lengthy trials, but they are independent and impartial. Aside from jingoism, there is no reason to believe that the two professional magistrates and six randomly selected lay people are any more likely to get it wrong than the 12 jurors who sit in British or American courts.
There have also been suggestions that a lingering anti-Americanism among the Italian judiciary, dating as far back as the early Cold War, when the US exhorted Italian immigrants to write warning their families back home to vote against the Communists, was in some way responsible. This is a curious case to make. Was it some enmity against the people of Puglia that led the court to give the same guilty verdict to Knox's Italian boyfriend? Regretfully, when an individual comes to symbolise a whole country – as "angelic Knox" has to many Americans – that person's trial will never be perceived as fair.
If anything, Knox, who, as part of the appeals process, has the right to a retrial next year, is fortunate to be a foreigner in an Italian jail. There she has learnt the language, entered short-story competitions and sung with nuns. Better her plight than that of a poor black outsider sent to a brutal, overcrowded American prison, or to the electric chair. Or of some foreigners – Knox's 26-year sentence is little more than a third of the 70 years that Gary McKinnon could face, simply for wanting to satisfy some curiosity about UFOs.
Taken from an Intelligence Squared debate; www.intelligencesquared.com/controversies/Amanda-Knox-conviction/preview