Berlusconi pushing to end appeals of acquittals

AP News
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Posted: Mar 10, 2011 2:13 PM
Berlusconi pushing to end appeals of acquittals

Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government on Thursday approved proposed legislation to drastically overhaul Italy's justice system, including ending the possibility of prosecutors appealing acquittals.

The premier insisted that the constitutional reform legislation "is in the interest of all citizens," but critics say the reforms are meant to aid him in his judicial woes.

The media mogul goes on trial next month on charges of paying for sex with an underage Moroccan teenager. Other trials in Milan involving Berlusconi stem from business-related corruption or tax fraud charges.

He denies all wrongdoing. For years, the center-right leader has contended that he is the innocent victim of prosecutors he depicts as sympathizing with the political left.

Berlusconi has promised the reforms will bring "epochal" change to Italy's justice system, long criticized at home and abroad for being slow. Trials can take years and in many cases are thrown out when statutes of limitations run out, leaving citizens to wonder if the defendant was innocent or not.

For the first time since the Italian republic was formed after the end of World War II the proposed laws offer "complete, organic, clear and convincing constitutional reforms" of the justice system, Berlusconi told a news conference.

Parliament, where his coalition has a comfortable majority, "will discuss it and will approve it," a confident Berlusconi said.

If passed, the legislation would end prosecutors' possibility of appealing acquittals. Now, both defense and prosecutors can appeal verdicts.

If passed by lawmakers, the reforms approved by Berlusconi's Cabinet Thursday would also allow judges to be sued by citizens for miscarriage of justice.

Brushing off suggestions that the justice reforms are tailor-made to help Berlusconi in his criminal cases, Justice Minister Angelino Alfano said the new laws would specify that they don't apply to criminal proceedings already in progress. Much of the efforts by Berlusconi's nearly three-year-old government have been dedicated to justice reform issues.

Other critics said the reforms do nothing to make Italy's trials speedier. The country's slow justice system has long been criticized by European human rights monitors.