Chris Bambery – How democratic is the Spanish justice system?

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While the EU is campaigning against what it sees as an undemocratic justice system in Poland, Chris Bambery points out that the situation in Spain is not much better

Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People’s History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.



It speaks volumes for Spanish justice and democracy that Carme Forcadell, the President (Speaker) of the Catalan parliament is on trial for allowing a parliamentary debate and vote. Having spent a night in a Madrid jail after her court appearance she was released after supporters raised €150,000 to bail her out. Along with Catalan government ministers she faces charges of sedition and rebellion. That carries a jail sentence of 30 years.

Forcadell is already facing charges in the Constitutional Court for allowing an earlier debate on independence, something a majority of Catalan MPs requested.

She was President of the Catalan National Assembly, the key organisation in the mobilisations for independence, until her election to the Catalan Parliament in 2015. Its current President, Jordi Sanchez, has been jailed. She has been picked out for particular venom by Spanish nationalists, with a strong whiff of misogyny about their attacks.

Spain likes to portray itself as a model European democracy but it has found und itself slated by numerous human rights organisations such as Amnesty International for its use of torture and the limits placed on freedom of expression (these result from the conflict in the Basque Country which although ended still contaminates Spanish democracy).

The Rajoy government has been at great pains to talk up the independence of the judicial system following the jailing of eight Catalan government ministers but a survey of 1,285 active judges last year, found that 75 percent of respondents said the Judicial Council doesn’t do enough to protect courts’ independence.

Earlier this year Rights International Spain and Judges for Democracy sent a letter to the United Nation’s special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, requesting that he visit Spain to examine the challenges to a free and independent judiciary.

One of the concerns they raised was ability of the current Popular Party government to appoint members of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ). The prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, succeeded in getting through a “reform” whereby any party which held three quarters majority in either Chamber of Parliament could make appointments without agreement with the other parties. The PP has no overall majority in the lower house but does have the required majority in the Senate. This law has been criticised by the Council of Europe.

The Constitutional Court helped provoke the surge of support for Catalan independence when in 2010, it ruled against key parts of Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy, passed by referendum three years before, including the recognition of Catalonia as a nation. Since then it has struck out several laws passed by the Catalan Parliament and ruled that the 1 October independence referendum, agreed by the Catalan Parliament, was illegal.

Of the Constitutional Court’s 12 members, eight are chosen by parliament, two by the government and two by the Consejo General del Poder Judicial, the highest judicial body in Spain.

The Spanish state’s interference in Catalonia, whether via the courts or by the use of the paramilitary Guardia Civil, has created a situation where a growing tranche of Catalan society is estranged from it.

What the crisis caused by the Catalan independence referendum, the Catalan Parliament’s declaration of independence and the takeover of Catalonia by Spain is doing is casting a spotlight on Spanish democracy, and that has been found wanting.

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