New justice bill may halt Berlusconi trials

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The Independent Online

Italy's parliament gave its first nod yesterday to a draft law drastically cutting the duration of trials, a measure critics say is tailor-made to stop pending court cases against Silvio Berlusconi.

The Senate, where the Prime Minister has an ample majority, approved the so-called "short trial" draft bill – one of the most radical reforms of Italy's snail-paced justice system since the end of the Second World War – by 163 to 130 votes. It will now go before the lower house, where it is all but certain to get the green light.

The draft law sets a total limit of between six-and-a-half and 10 years on the three stages of court cases – initial trial, first appeal and final appeal – depending on the severity of the crime. Beyond that, the defendant would be automatically acquitted.

Because of its retroactive effect, the measure would effectively terminate two corruption and tax fraud trials against Mr Berlusconi, who denies all charges.