July 4, 2013 / 2:11 PM / 5 years ago

Italy's lawyers to strike after minister says they block reforms

* Decree to speed up civil justice opposed by lawyers

* Profession further angered by minister’s comments

* Week-long strike could delay cruise disaster trial

ROME, July 4 (Reuters) - Italian lawyers will go on strike next week, they said on Thursday, to protest at measures aimed at streamlining civil trials and at the justice minister’s accusation that they were blocking reforms.

One of the trials that could be delayed is that of Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia, who is accused of manslaughter for running the cruise liner into a rock last year, causing 32 deaths when it capsized.

The strike, expected to affect trials taking place between July 8 and July 16, underlines the deep-seated resistance from many professions and economic sectors in Italy to efforts to break down structural barriers and open up the economy.

In the case of the legal profession, the difficulties have been increased by the large number of lawyers in parliament. The assembly has 107 lawyers, more than 10 percent of the total membership of the two houses.

The strike was called after Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government passed a decree aimed at accelerating civil trials, which now last an average of about four years.

The main lawyers’ association, OUA, said the decree’s requirement that there be a round of mediation to try to prevent a lengthy trial was “unconstitutional and doomed to fail”.

Justice Minister Annamaria Cancellieri - a technocrat who was interior minister in the previous government, headed by Mario Monti - antagonised lawyers on Tuesday when she told a business conference in Rome: “The lawyers, the major lobbies, block our country from becoming a normal one.”

Later the same day, a comment picked up inadvertently by microphones at another conference angered them further.

As the conference was interrupted by protesting lawyers, she turned to fellow speakers and said: “I’ll go talk to them to get them off our backs.”

That comment prompted OUA representatives to abandon a meeting with the minister scheduled for the next day. (Reporting by Antonella Cinelli and Steve Scherer; Writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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