Italy's controversial justice bill clears first hurdle
Apr 13, 2011, 18:33 GMT
Rome - Italy's parliament on Wednesday narrowly gave first approval to a controversial justice reform bill which the government says would speed-up trials and opponents say is tailor-made to help Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with his legal woes.
The lower house Chamber of Deputies approved the so-called 'processo breve' (short-trial) bill by 314 votes to 296.
Before becoming law, the bill still needs to be passed by the upper house Senate where the ruling conservatives have a comfortable majority.
The government says the bill aims to reform Italy's notoriously slow justice system by forcing magistrates and prosecutors to speed up trials.
However, critics, including the centre-left opposition, say the measure would allow statute of limitations to be applied to several trials involving Berlusconi and his private media empire.
One case sees Berlusconi accused of paying British lawyer David Mills 600,000 dollars to provide false evidence in two corruption trials that took place in the 1990s.
Mills, who was tried separately, had his four-and-a-half prison sentence overturned on appeal - on statute of limitations grounds - in February 2010.
Both Berlusconi and Mills deny any wrongdoing.
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