Italy’s Supreme Court recently ruled that stealing small amounts of food is not a crime if one is desperately poor and hungry.
By: Roshni Kapur
Impoverished Italians who resort to stealing food because of hunger will not be convicted, the country’s highest court has ruled.
A case was brought to the Supreme Court of Cassation of a homeland Ukrainian who stole cheese and sausages worth €4.07 (S$6.31) in a supermarket in 2011.
The homeless man, Roman Ostriakov, was caught stealing food by another customer who informed the supermarket staff. He was arrested and sent to court where he was initially sentenced to six months in prison and slapped with a €100 (S$155.15) fine- which he was unable to pay.
Ostriakov’s lawyers appealed but his sentence was upheld. Only at the second and final stage of appeal – a right for any defendant under Italian law – the conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court who passed the usual judgment overruling the conviction and annulling the sentence.
The court said it was clear the defendant “could not live without feeding himself, so acted out of necessity.” Therefore, it was not a crime.
The Supreme Court stated that stealing small amounts of food out of desperation “does not constitute a crime”.
“The condition of the accused and the circumstances in which he obtained the merchandise show that he had taken the little amount of food he needed to overcome his immediate and essential requirement for nourishment,” the court stated the ruling in a written judgment.
“People should not be punished if, forced by need, they steal small quantities of food in order to meet the basic requirement of feeding themselves.”
An Italian newspaper, La Stampa, applauded the ruling as a victory for compassion during a time when the country’s economic crisis has driven many people into poverty.
“For the judges, the right to survival has prevailed over the right to property,” Massimo Gramellini, an editor at La Stampa newspaper, wrote in an opinion column.
“The court’s decision reminds us all that in a civilised country no one should be allowed to die of hunger,” she added.
Italy was one of the worst affected countries in Europe to be hit by the financial crisis. An estimated 30% of the population was living below the poverty line in 2012, in relative with the UK’s 15% and Spain’s 20%.
Reduce food wastage
Italy is also set to enforce a new law where all supermarkets are required to donate their waste food to charities. If the law is passed, Italy will become the second European country to pass such a law.
Food waste in people’s houses in Italy accounts for about half of national waste. The bill has received bipartisan support and is expected to pass in the lower house of the parliament before a final vote in the Senate of the Republic.
“We are making it more convenient for companies to donate than to waste,” Italy’s Agriculture Minister, Maurizio Martina, was quoted in an online article on La Repubblica.
“We currently recover 550 million tonnes of excess food each year but we want to arrive at one billion in 2016.”
The movement for reducing food wastage has also gained momentum across Europe. Last year, France introduced a bill that bans supermarkets from throwing away unsold food.
A French politician Arash Derambarsh is trying to bill for legislation across the European Union (EU) that will mandate supermarkets to give away waste food.
“The problem is simple – we have food going to waste and poor people who are going hungry”, he was quoted in an online article on The Independent.
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