Italy court holds hearings on immunity law shielding Berlusconi from trial

Italy court holds hearings on immunity law shielding Berlusconi from trial

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[JURIST] The Italian Constitutional Court held hearings on Tuesday to determine the constitutionality of a law that grants temporary immunity [materials, in Italian] to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] for charges he currently faces in Milan. The law in question was passed in March [JURIST report] and allows cabinet officials to postpone criminal proceedings against them for up to 18 months if the charges constitute a “legitimate impediment” to performing public duties. The constitutional review of the law was sought by judges in Milan [JURIST report] where Berlusconi is charged in two cases on corruption and tax fraud. The court was asked to decide whether the law violates the Italian Constitution [text] by improperly creating a new faculty for cabinet members through law rather than by a constitutional amendment. Additionally, the court must determine if it violates the constitutional principle that all individuals are equal under the law. The 15-judge court is expected to reach its decision on Thursday [AP report].

The proceedings mark the third time an immunity law protecting Berlusconi has been submitted to constitutional review. Laws submitted to the Constitutional Court in January 2004 and in October 2009 [JURIST reports] were both determined to be unconstitutional. In April 2010, Italian prosecutors sought to indict Berlusconi [JURIST report] on fraud and embezzlement charges involving his media company. The law granting Berlusconi immunity was approved [JURIST report] by the Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Italian] in February. 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. Both laws have been criticized as being tailored for Berlusconi’s benefit. He currently faces corruption and tax fraud trials, both of which have been postponed [JURIST report]. The leader has been previously acquitted of false accounting and bribery, and has had other charges against him dropped [JURIST reports].