Sat, Mar 12, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Berlusconi approves move to sue judges and prosecutors

The Guardian, ROME

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a press conference following a Cabinet meeting on justice reform in Rome on Thursday.

Photo: EPA

Italian judges and prosecutors who make mistakes could be sued by defendants and made to pay damages under the terms of changes to the courts approved by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government. The Cabinet approved the proposed measure the day before the prime minister was due to go back in the dock, accused of buying favorable testimony.

The draft bill provoked anger from opposition leaders and the judges’ main representative body.

“This is a punitive reform whose overall intention is to undermine the autonomy and independence of the judiciary and upset significantly the correct balance between the arms of government,” a statement from the national magistrates’ association read.

Government officials said the proposed change would have no effect on trials that had begun by the time it became law, but critics described it as an act of revenge.

Berlusconi has protested that he is the victim of a campaign by politically motivated prosecutors.

Anna Finocchiaro, the senate leader of Italy’s biggest opposition group, the Democratic Party, called it an “attempt to put the prosecutors under the control of the government.”

By early next month, Berlusconi will be a defendant in three trials, including one in which he is accused of paying an underage Moroccan girl, Karima el-Mahroug, for sex. He denies all wrongdoing.

The daily Il Fatto Quotidiano quoted a Moroccan registrar as saying she had been offered a bribe by two Italian-speakers to set back the girl’s date of birth by two years.

Berlusconi’s lawyers said any such attempt would have been “pointless and risible” since other official documents would show the correct date.

Under Italian law, constitutional reforms must be approved twice by both houses of parliament.

If endorsed by a two-thirds majority in both chambers, they take effect immediately. Otherwise, they have to be submitted to a popular referendum. The bill unveiled on Thursday contained only broad outlines. Berlusconi said the details would be elaborated in 10 further bills to be debated by parliament.

The reform bill says judges and prosecutors would become “directly responsible for acts committed in violation of rights in the same way as other state officials and employees.”

Currently, their responsibility is indirect: Former defendants can sue the state, and it is the state that pays compensation if the action is successful.

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