I never knew the Spanish government controlled the Spanish judicary.
You never knew? Tom, you really haven’t been keeping up.
A few things you might like to check out:
1. The appointment of the top judiciary in Spain by the two main political parties is an unquestioned part of the system. The parties directly appoint the members of the Judicial Council, which then essentially places judges in roles that keep the parties happy. The presiding judge of the Catalan leaders’ trial, Manuel Marchena, was at the centre of a scandal that exposed this relationship a year ago. Everyone knew about it, no-one has denied it.
2. Before and during the Catalan trial, Spanish government ministers made frequent public comments asserting the defendants’ guilt. It was done almost gratuitously, arrogantly, and if the government members were ever called out on this (which they usually weren’t) they would react as though their honour had been wounded.
3. Why do you think independence leaders were tried for “rebellion” – a completely inappropriate and excessive charge, according to every neutral expert who ever looked at the case? They were found not guilty of this charge, but the grave accusation served a clear purpose. It enabled nine defendants (most of them elected Catalan political leaders) to be jailed for two years before the trial: absolutely gross judicial interference in politics, which completely hamstrung the Catalan political scene in 2018 and 2019. The Spanish deputy leader of the time bragged that “our party has decapitated the pro-independence parties”.
4. Spanish politicians not only believe they can obtain acquiescence from their own judiciary but also that of other EU countries. Last week, Spain’s deputy PM threatened “measures” against the Belgian government if its judges decide not to extradite exiled Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.
5. In fact, PM Pedro Sánchez is so sure he can get his way in the courts that he has committed to securing the handover of Puidgemont from Belgium to Spain as an election promise! When taken to task about this, he claimed he was not talking about influencing judges but rather the public prosecutors “who do depend on the government” – which has, even in Spain, raised a huge storm about lack of respect for separation of powers.
In short, the relationship between executive and judicial powers in Spain is miles from what you would expect in a “consolidated democracy” (the phrase of a recent desperate propaganda campaign by the Spanish government). There is no mature, transparent separation of the two branches. A whole generation of Spanish politicians has become specialised in passing their politically difficult decisions to the courts, and many key judges are more than willing to oblige and pull on their political boots, and they don’t even realise they are doing it, since the sacred unity of Spain constitutes the law, the political goal and the shared nationalist fervour.
Thursday afternoon in Barcelona and everything is going according to the script that Pedro Sánchez envisaged. Or is it? The court sentences severe, the strong Catalan reaction, the overspill into street violence, the law and order clampdown.
But I’m wondering if another genie has got out of the bottle. The reaction on the Catalan streets has not only been stronger than many people expected, but it’s much younger and has a new attitude. I’m not talking about the street violence which we have indeed seen from a fairly small minority (partly in reaction to some completely unjustifiable policing, in addition to the almost certain presence of agents provocateurs in the crowds), but rather the core mass of people who have come down to the street and marched and blocked roads and infrastructure and then repeated the same thing the next day. The key to what happens next is with this group. Naturally there is a huge campaign on to discredit all the protests. But it goes on, there are huge protests every day of all types and it’s not going to stop – just yet anyway.
Just a little update. It’s Monday morning 8am in Barcelona. The court verdicts (and sentences – they are delivered together at the same moment) are likely to be announced in a few hours, with even defence lawyers kept in the dark about exactly when up till now. The defendants don’t have to be present in the court and will have the sentences read to them in their prison cells (the 9 out of 12 of them who have already spent close to 2 years in jail). And yet, despite all this “secrecy”, in an appalling but very typical development for the Spanish justice system, the court’s decisions have apparently been leaked and all weekend the Madrid-based media has been telling its audiences what the sentences will be, to the extent that it will be very surprising if the official announcement is significantly different.
The media say that the nine leaders already in jail have been found guilty of a major charge of “sedición” and have been sentenced to 8-15 years jail. “Sedición” in Spanish law is not the same as what might come to mind when you think of “sedition” – what Wikipedia calls “overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that tends toward insurrection against the established order”. Bascially, the Spanish crime consists of actually carrying out such an insurrection, which is defined as a “public and tumultuous uprising” (and differs from the other apparently-rejected charge of “rebellion” in that the latter involves a “public and *violent* uprising”).
We have yet to read the details of when and how the court sees this “tumultuous uprising” as having occurred (assuming that the leaks are correct). Spoiler: it didn’t. Unless you say the police violence counts as the “tumult” which the independence movement was responsible for. Or unless you want to criminalize dozens of very large and sometimes violent demonstrations (by unions, students, practically everyone except the independence movement) over the last 20 years in Spain. Might be seen as an idea with a future by some, of course.
We currently have the airport and major train stations pretty much on lockdown, occupied by the piolins, the Spanish police. There are lots of protest mobilizations and they are all very open ended. It’s going to be an intense week.
Just catching up finally... brilliant photos Jonathan and so powerful to see them in that sequence and with your comments. That shot of Jane Dodd and Robbie Yeats now looks to me like it is from another world. Certainly not from the Grey Lynn which I am told voted heavily for National a couple of weeks ago.
Hilarious post. Loud guffaws. Thanks David. I needed that. And so did this dreadfully silent office where I am working.