Italian government OKs controversial justice bill in Berlusconi name

Italian government OKs controversial justice bill in Berlusconi name

Long-discussed reform, which curbs wiretapping use and abolishes abuse of office crime, criticized by magistrates, opposition parties

By Giada Zampano

ROME (AA) – Italy's right-wing government late on Thursday approved the first steps of a divisive justice reform long-advocated by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, but fiercely criticized by magistrates and opposition parties.

The new law, which Giorgia Meloni's Cabinet openly dedicated to Berlusconi who died on Monday aged 86, limits the use of wiretapping, often used by prosecutors to investigate criminal cases, while complicating procedures for ordering arrests.

It also cancels the crime of abuse of office, which has often been opposed by state and local officials, and limits the ability of prosecutors to appeal against acquittals for less serious crimes.

The justice reform – signed off by Justice Minister Carlo Nordio – is only the latest of various attempts made by recent and past governments to overhaul Italy's slow and tortuous justice system. The bill is now due to be discussed and approved by parliament.

Berlusconi frequently complained that the string of legal issues he faced during his whole life were due to "politicized magistrates" abusing their power for political reasons.

Several judges and prosecutors said the new rules would make it harder for them to pursue criminals, while the government claimed it would make the judicial system more efficient.

Under the new law, judges will not be able to order the arrest of suspects without questioning them in advance. In addition, arrest warrants will have to be signed by a panel of three judges instead of just one.

The reform tightens the rules on wiretapping, curbing the use in trials of taped conversations that involve people not under direct investigation. That has been widely criticized by both prosecutors and investigative journalists, who often use wiretapping recording to unveil and report crimes.

Giuseppe Santalucia, the president of Italy's association of magistrates, said the cancellation of the abuse of office would create "an unjustifiable gap in criminal law protection."

He also stressed that having three judges to decide on arrest orders will create managing problems due to a staff shortage, while preventing prosecutors from appealing acquittals probably will be declared unconstitutional.

Nordio on Thursday defended his reform, saying he was only sorry that Berlusconi would not see it come into force.

"I'm sorry that Berlusconi cannot witness the first step towards a radical reform to make the system centered on a presumption of innocence," Nordio said, adding that the crime of abuse of office was scrapped because it was too "vague" and discouraged local politicians and civil servants from acting due to fears of being investigated.

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