[JURIST] The corruption trial of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was adjourned for a month on Saturday, after the court rejected the defendant's request to suspend the trial. A court in Milan ruled [AFP report] that it could not wait for the Court of Cassation [official website, in Italian] to issue its opinion in the related prosecution of David Mills [JURIST news archive], as Berlusconi's defense requested, which could take as long as two or three months. Instead, the court set the next hearing [Reuters report] for March 26. Berlusconi, also facing another trial for tax fraud, castigated members of the judiciary [BBC report] on Friday, comparing them to communists and the Taliban [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], and accused them of trying to bring down his government. He also claimed that prosecutors had usurped sovereignty from the people. The head of the National Association of Magistrates [official website] later characterized Berlusconi's statements as intolerable aggression, prompting President Giorgio Napolitano [official profile, in Italian] to call for calm. Also on Saturday, an estimated 200,000 protesters rallied against Berlusconi [BBC report] in central Rome, accusing him of trying to evade the law and undermine the Italian legal system.
On Thurday, the Court of Cassation threw out the conviction against Mills [AFP report], citing a lapse of the ten-year statute of limitations. Mills was appealing his conviction and four and a half year sentence for accepting a $600,000 bribe from Berlusconi in exchange for providing favorable testimony at two of his previous trials. The charges against Berlusconi for the alleged bribe will expire next year. The Italian Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Italian] approved a bill [JURIST report; materials, in Italian] earlier this month that would allow cabinet ministers, including Berlusconi, to postpone criminal proceedings against them for up to 18 months on the grounds that they would interfere with official duties. The legislation is to be considered by the Senate [official website, in Italian] on March 9. The Senate approved a bill [JURIST report; materials, in Italian] in January that would shorten the trial and appeals process, putting strict time limits on its duration. Because of the bill's retroactive effect, two pending corruption cases against Berlusconi would be automatically dismissed. In October, Italy's Constitutional Court [official website, in Italian] struck down a law granting immunity [JURIST report] to the Prime Minister and four others, allowing charges of corruption to be reinstated. The Italian premier is facing two separate trials on charges of corruption and bribery and could face a third corruption trial [JURIST report] based on new information that recently surfaced, according to reports.