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Thursday, 10 October, 2002, 20:42 GMT 21:42 UK
Italy MPs pass Berlusconi justice bill
Left-wing deputies during the parliamentary debate
Opposition deputies attacked the new law

Italy's MPs have passed a controversial new criminal justice reform bill which the opposition claims is designed to help Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi avoid trial on corruption charges.

To opposition cries of shame and the singing of the national anthem from government benches, the controversial bill was passed in a boisterous session of the lower house of parliament.

Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi has accused judges of bias
One deputy held up a placard reading "injustice is done".

The bill now has to return for approval by the upper house for a second time before it is signed into law - but this is expected to be a mere formality as the ruling coalition enjoys a comfortable working majority in both chambers.

The new law will help Mr Berlusconi and one of his closest associates, a wealthy lawyer and former government minister, Cesare Previti, to postpone trials they are currently undergoing in Milan on charges of bribing judges.

The law says that if defendants have legitimate suspicion of bias on the part of the judge conducting the trial, it may be shifted to another city under a different judge.

Opposition deputies say the new law is tailor-made for the benefit of the prime minister, who is also Italy's wealthiest businessman.

Mr Berlusconi has frequently accused the judges trying him on bribery charges, of political bias.

Under Italy's Statute of Limitations - and because of the huge backlog of cases in the criminal courts - extra delays and postponements often mean that prosecutions fail as they run out of time.

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 ON THIS STORY
David Willey reports
"One opposition deputy held up a placard reading 'Injustice Is Done'"
Democratic Left Party's Tana de Zulveta
"The item of legislation we're talking about is self-serving"
See also:

21 Feb 02 | Europe
14 Sep 02 | Europe
14 Jan 02 | Country profiles
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