As Italy's prime minister faces a host of criminal charges, the conservative government has unveiled a set of judicial reforms that would significantly roll back the power of state prosecutors.
Berlusconi says the reforms have been planned since 1994
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday unveiled a set of constitutional reforms that would overhaul the country's judicial system, with critics denouncing the move as an attempt to evade his own conviction.
The prime minister said the reforms had "absolutely zero" to do with the current host of charges against him, which comprise paying for sex with a minor, corruption, tax fraud and abuse of power.
"I once said that I wouldn't leave politics until Italy's justice system had been changed," he said. "This will raise our country to the same level of civilization of the great democracies, starting with the United States."
Power check on magistrates
Magistrates say the reform would be a blow to separation of powers
The reforms were approved by Berlusconi's cabinet on Thursday, but still require a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament, or a referendum. The conservative government's slim majority in the lower house makes quick passage unlikely.
The 16-point reform package includes a requirement that prosecutors and judges choose one career and stick with it, whereas currently they can switch between the two roles.
The reform would also place greater checks on the magistrates, whom Berlusconi has long accused of a left-wing conspiracy to unseat him. Prosecutors would no longer be able to appeal acquittals, and a new body would review and possibly sanction magistrates deemed to have acted wrongfully.
Opposition cries foul
The proposal was denounced by the magistrates' association, which called it "punitive" and said it "undermines the autonomy and independence of the magistrature and noticeably alters the fine balance between the powers of the state."
Pierluigi Bersani, leader of the largest opposition Democratic Party, said the reform would let the prime minister's "political and personal priorities pin down the country."
"Italy has no need for a constitutional reform that will lead to another two years of empty discussions," Bersani said.
Author: Andrew Bowen (AP, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Rob Turner