Berlusconi sueing Italy in ECHR to run for office

Silvio Berlusconi

ROME - The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held the first and only hearing of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s appeal against his ban from holding office. Berlusconi was banned from running by the ECHR in 2012 after he was convicted of tax-fraud.

 Under the current judgement, he will be unable to run for public office until 2019. His decision to appeal the court’s decision shows his desire to run in the 2018 general elections after demonstrating that Italy still holds a place in the heart of the controversial politician during the Sicilian mayoral election.

 The case, Berlusconi vs. Italy, revolves around the application of the 2012 Severino Law which states that no one that has served more than a two-year prison term can stand for office. After Berlusconi resigned from office in 2011 in a haze of failed economic reform and child prostitute scandals, he seemed to be taking a hiatus to before returning to office. When he was convicted in 2012, the Severino law was passed and applied against him by the Italian Supreme Court of Cassation.

 Berlusconi was elected into the senate in Feb. 2013 before being stripped of the position 10 months later through the application of the Severino law. Since the 81 year old lost his political office, he has been attempting to have the ruling overturned in the Italian courts.

 After having exhausted all his domestic legal options, Berlusconi launched an appeal with the ECHR which member states technically must adhere to. A total of 76 percent of cases put to the ECHR are struck out as inadmissible, the number that reaches preliminary hearings, and then hearings, are even less which indicates that Berlusconi’s case is not outlandish.

 Berlusconi hired lawyers from London’s Doughty Street Chambers, a decision that aids his attempt to make his case an international rather than domestic point of interest, as Andrea Saccucci, one of his lawyers said: “We’ll have just 30 minutes to set out our argument, the same goes for the government … It’s pretty standard, but this hearing will attract a lot of attention for obvious reasons.”

 Berlusconi’s case rests on article 6 and 7 of the European Commission on Human Rights. Article 6 is the “right to a fair trial 1. In the determination of one’s civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against them, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

 Edward Fitzgerald, another of Berlusconi’s lawyers, said the decision against the former prime minister was made by his political adversaries that punished him more harshly in his sentencing and applied the Severino law against him unfairly.  "He was deprived of his seat with a vote in a Senate composed in majority by his adversaries: this was not justice but a Roman amphitheatre in which a majority of thumbs down or thumbs up decide whether one sinks or not."

 Secondly, and more promisingly for Berlusconi and his gang of lawyers, article 7, no punishment without law: “no one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offence was committed.”

 The offences that Berlusconi was convicted of were perpetrated in the early 90s, far before the law that ousted him from office was even a glint in Paolo Severino’s eye. There are two ways to view this, running for office after being handed a two year prison sentence is currently illegal or that Berlusconi’s crimes would not have had the ramification of not being allowed to run for office when they were made or when he was convicted of them. Secondly, the harshness of his punishment is likely to be disputed as it was decided by “a Roman amphitheatre,” in Fitzgerald’s words.

 European Convention on Human Rights representative, Maria Giuliana Civinini, said at the hearing that "no violation can be attributed and the law was scrupulously respected.” She continued, Berlusconi’s conviction was "not arbitrary but was made at the end of a procedure that respected all the rights" due to him.

 The hearing was before the Grand Chamber of the ECHR which, due to San Marino’s independence, included two Italians: Ida Caracciolo, Italian judge and included by default; and San Marino’s judge, Kristina Pardalos. The court is famously thorough, a quality that is prized more highly than punctuality. It is unclear how the court will rule or even if their ruling will be returned in time for Berlusconi to join the race for office.