Law of the jungle

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Brazil, one of the 190 signatory states to the International Civil Aviation Organisation's Chicago Convention, is providing a shocking example of how to flout its provisions regarding air accident investigation.

Although the technical inquiry into the mid-air collision between a Gol Boeing 737 and an Embraer Legacy is not yet complete, a senior Brazilian politician and a police chief have publicly declared that the Legacy pilots are criminals.

If these calls to prosecute the pilots are successful when there is no technical evidence that there is a case to be heard, there is a risk that the investigation into Brazil's aviation infrastructure will be truncated because the pilots will become scapegoats.

Annex 13 of the Chicago Convention - the section that sets out the objectives of accident investigation - states clearly that its sole purpose is to establish the causes so as to be able to apply the lessons learned. It makes clear that the purpose is not to allocate blame, because if that becomes its objective there will be a rush by individuals to cover up evidence for fear of prosecution.

The system is a good one, because if there is a valid criminal case to be heard it tends to become clear when the technical and operational facts are known. All states should rein in their judiciary until proper Annex 13 inquiries are complete.