Italy to decriminalise duelling and dope

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The Independent Online
NEXT TIME an offended Italian slaps your cheek with his glove, don't bruise his honour further by laughing at the gesture. If approved, a white paper currently making its way through parliament will decriminalise duelling. You may find that the challenge was made in deadly earnest.

Duelling is just one of a long list of crimes which the Italian government hopes to erase from the codice penale in an effort to create space in the country's over-crowded prisons.

If you should happen to find yourself at the wrong end of a thrown down gauntlet, other measures included in the draft legislation may provide some help and solace.

You could, for example, calm your nerves with a quick toke of your home- grown cannabis: a plant or two on your balcony might get you a fine, but would no longer put you behind bars. And as you collapse in a bloody heap, you could roundly curse a foreign head of state of your choice without fear of dire consequences: the codice currently bans such an outrage. If, on the other hand, you decide to take the not-so-honourable way out, and offer your opponent a pecuniary recompense for his wounded pride, you could have the last laugh by fobbing him off with a bouncing cheque: imagining his frustrated fury would go a long way towards easing the pain of paying the fine.

Finally, driving away from the scene of your dishonour with an out-of- date driving licence while making the Fascist salute and shouting in such a way as to "disturb public or private tranquillity" on your way to commit acts popular with George Michael in a public place, you could do so with impunity, criminally speaking.

The white paper also has its more serious side, and has not failed to rouse criticism. Decriminalising offences against zoning rules was described as "an insult to the dead of Sarno," by Green MP Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio. Many of the victims of last month's massive landslide in the Sarno valley in southern Italy died when their unregulated houses were swept off seriously eroded hillsides.

Women MPs have criticised the removal of a law giving eight-day prison sentences for soliciting, not because they want a crackdown on prostitution, but because the fine for this offence would rise from 25,000 lire (pounds 9) to as much as 10 million lire.

The measure which has caused most bemusement, however, is one transferring burglary from the criminal to the civil code. Without specific action initiated by the injured party, this particular misdemeanour would go unpunished. In a country where one and a half million break-ins are investigated each year, indignant burglees besieging police stations may outnumber the criminals spared a spell in the nation's cells.