The Italian government threatened to sue Milan's most senior judge, Francesco Saverio Borelli, yesterday after a festering dispute between the Berlusconi administration and the judiciary exploded.
Mr Borelli had accused the government of undermining the independence of the judiciary and meddling in trials to protect Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister.
The normally dull ceremonies for the start of the judicial year at the weekend were transformed into an unprecedented nationwide protest by hundreds of magistrates who donned their black court robes, instead of red dress garments, to show their concern.
Mr Borelli, who was one of the leading figures in the Clean Hands corruption investigations, said the government's "planned, or rather threatened reforms of the justice system have little to do with efficiency".
He said they were clearly aimed at bringing prosecutors under the control of the executive and spoke of "outside intervention and sabotage".
He also lashed out at political interference in current trials, a clear reference to a case against Mr Berlusconi, and the removal of police escorts from prosecutors.
Mr Borelli ended his speech in Milan to rousing applause, calling on his fellow judges to "resist, resist, resist". Similar denunciations were made by magistrates in other cities.
Claudio Scajola, the Interior Minister, said: "Mr Borelli's outbursts represent a veritable rebellion that cannot be accepted." He said legal action was necessary because "you can't allow one institution to make false assertions about such a delicate topic".Reuse content