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UN agency criticises Italian legal system

A legal case involving Berlusconi has been cited by a UN investigator


A United Nations investigator says Italian politicians may be interfering with that country's judicial system -- a development of interest in Switzerland.

Param Cumaraswamy, the special expert on the independence of judges and lawyers for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, said he found "reasonable cause" for members of the Italian judiciary to feel their independence was being threatened by senior members of the government.

Cumaraswamy cited a case against Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, saying that continual delays may have weakened the case against him. The investigator did not criticise Berlusconi directly.

The legislative changes have spurred public mistrust of the legal system, Cumaraswamy said, adding that a number of cases could be jeopardised in Italy.

In addition to case delays, international observers have criticised newly changed legislation which affects the admissibility of evidence.

Special interest to Switzerland

Cumuraswamy's comments are of special interest to Switzerland, which has expressed concern over changes in the Italian legal system.

In October last year, Berlusconi approved a change to the law making it more difficult for evidence gathered in other countries to be presented in Italian courts.

The change aroused suspicions that the prime minister was altering the law to protect himself. Berlusconi is being investigated in Italy on charges of bribery, and some of the evidence against him was gathered in Switzerland.

At the time of the change in the law, Swiss justice minister Ruth Metzler protested to the Italian government, and the Swiss investigating magistrate Bernard Bertossa called it a blatant attempt to protect the careers of senior Italian politicians.

A delegation from the Swiss justice ministry held talks with their Italian counterparts in Rome in December, but failed to resolve the dispute between the two countries.

No comment from Italy

A spokesman for the Italian justice ministry said it had no comment on Cumuraswamy's findings, and there was no reaction from Berlusconi's office either.

Cumuraswamy visited Italy for five days last month, and is scheduled to present his full report to the Human Rights Commission on Friday.

swissinfo with agencies

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