Page last updated at 14:33 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 15:33 UK

Italian PM defends trials freeze

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Mr Berlusconi said the amendment would benefit all citizens

Italy's prime minister has defended plans by his government to suspend certain long-running trials for a year.

The move, which would freeze Silvio Berlusconi's corruption trial currently under way in Milan, sparked criticism from opposition parties.

The amendment would place all trials for crimes committed before 2002, apart from violent or Mafia crimes, on hold.

Mr Berlusconi said that the proposed amendment would help speed up the country's sluggish judicial process.

"It is a measure that benefits all and which offers citizens a strong response against the most recent and most serious offences," Mr Berlusconi said in a letter to the head of the Senate late on Monday.

Corruption trial

"My lawyers have informed me that this measure would be applicable to one of a number of fanciful trials that the far-left magistrates have filed against me for political reasons," he added.

Centre-left Italian politician Antonio Di Pietro (file image)
Berlusconi is allergic to justice. He doesn't want the law - before which all are equal - to be applied to him
Antonio Di Pietro,
centre-left politician

The measure would freeze all trials for one year, except all crimes punishable with a sentence of 10 years or more in prison, those that involve violence, the Mafia and workplace accidents.

Among the proposals is the reintroduction of a controversial immunity bill to protect those holding the highest positions of public office from prosecution.

The country's Shadow Justice Minister Lanfranco Tenaglia said the proposals were a reflection of "the prime minister's perennial conflict of legal interests".

Former anti-corruption judge and leftist politician Antonio Di Pietro said the proposal was another example of Mr Berlusconi shaping the country's laws to his own ends.

"Berlusconi is allergic to justice. He doesn't want the law - before which all are equal - to be applied to him," he said.

'Fast-track justice'

The proposal will suspend Mr Berlusconi's corruption trial, currently under way in Milan.

Mr Berlusconi has been charged with giving $600,000 (300,000; 380,000 euros) to British lawyer David Mills in exchange for false testimony in two cases during the 1990s.

Mr Berlusconi, who has denied any wrongdoing, has not been convicted in any of the cases against him so far. He has either been acquitted of the charges or time has run out.

The head of the justice and constitutional reform commission and an ally of Mr Berlusconi, Filippo Berselli, said the proposal was needed.

"Courts are snowed under with thousands of cases and we wanted to ensure a fast-track for those that involve serious and very serious crimes," he said, according to Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper.

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