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Berlusconi Unveils Controversial Judiciary Reform Bill

By Fady Bishay
The Digest, The Digest, Business/Technology Editor

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has presented a controversial bill to substantially change the country’s justice system. The reforms include taking away the right of prosecutors to appeal acquittals, allowing citizens to sue judges for miscarriage of justice, and giving Parliament greater scope to intervene in judicial matters. Furthermore, under current Italian law magistrates enjoy the right to switch between being a prosecutor or a judge. The bill however would force magistrates to choose between a career as a prosecutor or a judge.

Justice Minister Angelino Alfano seems to agree that it would be fairer to make magistrates choose between the two career options. He said it is essential that prosecutors and defendants be placed on the same level, with judges above them. For this to truly happen, Alfano said that judges cannot be direct colleagues of prosecutors. Alfano furthermore agrees that citizens should be allowed to sue prosecutors and judges for the mistakes they commit, as “all are equal before the law”. He used the example of a patient suing a doctor for the mistakes he made.

The timing of this bill is causing a lot of controversy in Italian politics because Prime Minister Berlusconi is due to stand trial on four different cases, including corruption, tax fraud, and allegedly paying a teenage Moroccan nightclub dancer for sex. He denies any wrongdoing in all cases. Critics of the reform believe he introduced this bill in attempts to help him with his ongoing judicial problems. Critics argue that the new rules would weaken a judiciary that he has repeatedly accused of persecuting him. Other critics argue that the reforms would give legislators too much power over the judiciary. They claim the judiciary presently has strong autonomy. They say there is a substantial risk that the judiciary could become oppressive and arbitrary.

Berlusconi denies any allegations of wrongdoing, and he said he had been thinking about this reform since 1994 when he was first elected prime minister. He has told the activists in his party that he will not leave politics until this reform is introduced. Furthermore, these reforms will not be retrospective. He says the reforms are in the interest of citizens and would be presented to Parliament in 10 separate bills. They will need at least a two-thirds majority to pass in parliament.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times, "Berlusconi Plan Takes on Italian Judiciary,” 10 Mar. 2011

Euronews, “Berlusconi Moves to Reform Judiciary”, 10 Mar. 2011

Realtime Financial News, “Italian Government Unveils Controversial Judiciary Reform Bill”, 10 Mar. 2011