This post is embarrassing for a lawyer.  There are reports that Italian prosecutors have launched manslaughter prosecutions against a number of scientists for telling a community that there were not at risk from earthquake.  Read the details at

Italy puts seismology in the dock  and

Scientists face trial over earthquake deaths

The idea that charges could be laid here leaves me, well stunned.  The Committee allegedly advised that there was a favourable outlook but events proved they were wrong.

I know little of Italian law but I can say such a result would be unimaginable in Australia.  Here a case of negligent manslaughter requires that the accused owed a duty to an individual, that they were grossly negligent and that caused the adverse outcome.  Here it would be hard to say there was a duty to the entire community who could not be identified in advance; hard to show there was negligence falling so far below the standard expected as to warrant criminal punishment and what difference would the warning have made?  What could or would anyone have done differently so that it can be said the failure (if there was a failure) was somehow the cause of death?

In the second article we are told “He says that the committee had precious information that was not passed on to citizens, for example on which buildings were most likely to collapse in the event of a strong earthquake”.  Even if that were true that does not seem to the be the issue before the court and one would question how scientists were meant to warn each affected individual.

We are relying on secondary sources here, the true allegation and the legal issues are bound to be more subtle, but, from what we are told, this is one case where at least the law is looking like an ass.

Michael Eburn

3 June 2011