[JURIST] The Italian Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Italian] approved a bill [materials, in Italian] Wednesday that would allow cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], to postpone criminal proceedings against them on the grounds that they would interfere with official duties. The legislation, passed by a vote of 316-239 [Corriere Della Sera report, in Italian] with 40 members abstaining, would allow officials to suspend trials against them for up to 18 months by claiming a "legitimate impediment" to appearing in court. Critics contend that the legislation is specifically designed to protect Berlusconi [BBC report] from the prosecutions he faces, while supporters claim that it will modernize the country's judicial system. The bill now proceeds to the Senate [official website, in Italian] for consideration.
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. That bill was also criticized as being tailored for Berlusiconi's benefit and would result in the automatic dismissal of two pending corruption cases against him. Later that month, it was reported that Berlusconi could also face a third trial based on information that surfaced a week after judges postponed his trial [JURIST reports] at his lawyers' request. It was the trial's second delay since a 2008 law granting immunity to him and four others was struck down [JURIST reports] by the Italian Constitutional Court [official website, in Italian] in October. A tax fraud trial against Berlusconi was similarly postponed [JURIST report] last year. The leader has been previously acquitted of false accounting and bribery, and has had other charges against him dropped [JURIST reports].