Strasbourg

Human rights court holds hearing on Berlusconi ban (2)

Ex-premier says decision unjust as applied retroactively

Human rights court holds hearing on Berlusconi ban (2)

Strasbourg, November 22 - The European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday held a hearing on Silvio Berlusconi's appeal against a ban from him running for office following a 2013 tax-fraud conviction. The Italian government respected the European Convention on Human Rights, its representative Maria Giuliana Civinini told the hearing. "No violation can be attributed," Civinini said. "The law was scrupulously respected". The decision in 2013 to expel Berlusconi from parliament and not to allow him to take part in elections for six years in relation to a tax-fraud conviction was "not arbitrary but was made at the end of a procedure that respected all the rights" of the former prime minister, she said. Berlusconi's lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said that a law that ousted his client from the Senate and made him ineligible to run for office was "not justice" as it was implemented retroactively. The so-called Severino anti-corruption law banning convicted felons from holding public office "was implemented for facts contested for the years 1995-1998, 15 years before the law was adopted", the lawyer told the court in Strasbourg. Berlusconi, he added, "was deprived of his seat with a vote in a Senate composed in majority by his adversaries: this was not justice but a Roman amphitheater in which a majority of thumbs down or thumbs up decide whether one sinks or not". The head of the Senate immunity panel, Dario Stefano, on Berlusconi's lawyers' likening the upper house to a Roman amphitheatre. Stefano said the rules were respected "to the letter" and Berlusconi's lawyers chose not to present their client's case. "It's understandable that defence lawyers sometimes use strong terms but that should never legitimise the use of expressions not wholly appropriate, all the more so if referring to Italian parliamentary institutions," he said. The former premier was ousted from parliament in 2013 under the 2012 Severino Law that prevents anyone sentenced to over two years from holding or running for public office for at least six years. The law, named after then justice minister Paola Severino, kicked in after the media billionaire was handed a definitive conviction for tax fraud. The three-time former premier and media tycoon was sentenced to four years in prison for masterminding a tax-dodging strategy by his Mediaset company, commuted to one year of community service which he served between 2014 and 2015. Berlusconi argues that Italy violated European legislation by applying the 2012 law retroactively, thus imposing a harsher penalty than was applicable at the time of the crime for which he was convicted.

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