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Italy court holds hearings on immunity law shielding Berlusconi from trial

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].

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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