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Italy judges walk out over proposed judicial reforms favoring Berlusconi

[JURIST] Hundreds of judges in Italy walked out of their courtrooms Saturday, in protest over judicial reform legislation proposed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The legislation, which has been approved [JURIST report] by the Italian Senate [official website, in Italian], aims to shorten the trial and appeals process by putting strict time limits on its duration. The protests were organized [press release, PDF; in Italian] by the National Magistrates Association (ANM) [official website, in Italian] on Wednesday and took place at ceremonies marking the beginning of the judicial year. Judges all across Italy, including Milan, Naples, Palermo, and Rome, got up and walked out [BBC report] carrying a copy of the Italian Constitution as government officials began to speak. According to the ANM, judges are concerned [press release, PDF; in Italian] that the reforms would act as a de facto amnesty for persons accused of crimes committed prior to May 2, 2006 and would endanger future trials.

The bill [S 1880 materials, in Italian] approved by the Senate would limit the three stages of a case - trial, initial appeal, and final appeal - to between 6.5 and 10 years depending on the crime, and cases that exceed the time limit would end in an automatic acquittal of the defendant. Because of the bill's retroactive effect, two pending corruption cases [JURIST report] against Berlusconi himself would be automatically dismissed. Members of Berlusconi's center-right coalition have defended the bill as a way to speed up [Times report] the slow Italian justice system while his critics have called it an ad personam bill, passed by his allies to help Berlusconi with his legal troubles [Financial Times report]. The bill would become law if it is approved by the lower house Chamber of Deputies and signed by President Giorgio Napolitano [official websites, in Italian].

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