[JURIST] The Italian Senate [official website, in Italian] on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill [materials, in Italian] that would allow cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], to postpone criminal proceedings against them on the grounds that they would interfere with official duties. The legislation, passed by a vote of 169-126 [Corriere della Sera report, in Italian] with three members abstaining, will allow officials to suspend trials against them for up to 18 months by claiming a "legitimate impediment" to appearing in court. Critics contend that the legislation is specifically designed to protect Berlusconi from the prosecutions he faces, while supporters claim that it will modernize the country's judicial system and allow elected officials to perform their duties.
The bill was approved [JURIST report] by the Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Italian] last month. In January, hundreds of Italy's judges walked out of their courtrooms to protest the passage of legislation that placed strict time limits [JURIST reports] on the trial and appeals process. That bill was also criticized as being tailored for Berlusiconi's benefit and would result in the automatic dismissal of two pending cases against him. Later that month, it was reported that Berlusconi could also face a third trial based on information that surfaced recently. Berlusconi currently faces a corruption trial and a tax fraud trial, both of which have been postponed. The leader has been previously acquitted of false accounting and bribery, and has had other charges against him dropped [JURIST reports].