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Italy law granting immunity to officials passes in lower house

[JURIST] The Italian Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Italian], the country's lower house of parliament, approved legislation [PDF text, in Italian; Draft Law 1442 materials] Thursday that would grant Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and other high-ranking officials immunity from prosecution while in office. Berlusconi's government proposed the legislation, saying the officials needed to operate without fear of politically motivated prosecutions, but opponents have said the law is specifically tailored to suspend Berlusconi's own trial on corruption charges [JURIST news archive]. The Chamber is also considering public safety legislation [PDF text, in Italian; JURIST report] that would suspend trials for non-violent crimes that occurred before 2002. Supporters say that the measure would help fix the congested criminal law system, but opponents say it is politically motivated because it would also suspend some of the charges against Berlusconi. The immunity law passed the Chamber by a wide margin and is also expected to be approved when considered by the Senate. BBC News has more.

Italy has recently faced significant criticism by both advocacy groups and members of the country's judiciary [JURIST reports] for relaxing its anti-corruption measures. The majority of the criticism has been targeted at Berlusconi, who has faced trial on at least six occasions involving charges of false accounting, tax fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, and giving false testimony [JURIST reports]. In October 2007, Italy's highest court of appeals upheld Berlusconi's April 2007 acquittal [JURIST reports] on bribery charges. That trial was initially blocked in 2004 by a bill drafted by Berlusconi ally and later defense lawyer Gaetano Pecorella but went ahead after the bill was struck down as unconstitutional. Berlusconi has said he is innocent on all charges and has accused prosecutors of pursuing a political vendetta against him.

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