Berlusconi Passes Italian Justice Overhaul as Trial Looms

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Photographer: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government passed an overhaul of Italy’s justice system aimed at making judges more independent from prosecutors, whom he has accused of trying to destroy him politically.

The measure seeks to separate the career paths of prosecutors and judges, who will be overseen by different governing bodies, Justice Minister Angelino Alfano said at a news conference in Rome today. Berlusconi, currently a defendant in four criminal trials, has said that judges, who often begin their careers as prosecutors, are too influenced by them.

The measure isn’t linked to his current legal problems, Berlusconi said. Had it been approved 20 years ago, “we would have avoided the prosecutors’ meddling in politics, including the current attempt by them to put an end to this government,” he told reporters after the Cabinet approved the measure.

Berlusconi has also pledged measures to shorten the length of trials and clamp down on the use of wiretaps. Newspapers have been filled with details of parties with young women that have been leaked from a probe alleging he paid an underage prostitute for sex. The premier, 74, is also accused of abuse of power to cover his tracks in the case, for which he stands trial on April 6 in Milan.

Sex Trial

The overhaul will require changes to the Constitution and therefore need a double approval by both houses of parliament, said Alfano, who drafted the bill that will make prosecutors personally responsible for alleged malpractice, as are doctors.

Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the main opposition party, called the overhaul “a maneuver to give Berlusconi political and constitutional cover” from his legal woes, newspaper La Stampa reported today.

Alfano said the measure won’t apply to trials, such as Berlusconi’s, that began before its passage. The government, which on Dec. 14 survived a no-confidence motion by three votes in parliament’s lower house, has the support to get the overhaul approved by the current legislature by the end of its term in 2013, Berlusconi said.

The premier reiterated that he expects to be acquitted in all four trials, which he will personally attend. “I think I will get some satisfaction and explain how things really are,” the premier said.

Berlusconi said on Feb. 28 that he’s “the biggest legal defendant in the history of the universe.” He told business leaders in Milan that he’s spent roughly $430 million to defend himself and his companies against legal action since entering politics in 1994.

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