A guide to the (several) Catalan independence trials

Which courts are handling them, who the defendants are, and what they're charged with

Protesters take to the streets on October 2, 2017, the day after Spanish police cracked down on referendum voters (by ACN)
Protesters take to the streets on October 2, 2017, the day after Spanish police cracked down on referendum voters (by ACN) / Neil Stokes & Alan Ruiz Terol

Neil Stokes & Alan Ruiz Terol | Barcelona

July 10, 2019 11:58 AM

If you follow Catalan News, chances are that you’ll have heard about what we call the ‘Catalan trial,’ which saw some of Catalonia’s top politicians in the dock for calling a referendum and trying to split from Spain in 2017.

And yet referring to this case as the ‘Catalan trial’ can be misleading, because there are several other judicial proceedings investigating Catalonia’s push for independence, being handled by different courts, and with other people accused. Here’s a quick guide to the different cases.

The trial that marked a turning point in Catalan-Spanish relations

Pro-independence leaders on trial at Spain's Supreme Court (by EFE)Spain’s Supreme Court (TS)

Defendants: In all, 12 people were in the dock during the trial hearings, including some of Catalonia’s most senior politicians at the time of the 2017 independence bid, such as vice president Oriol Junqueras. Nine of them were ministers in the government of Carles Puigdemont, who would also be on trial had he not chosen to go into exile in Belgium. The accused also included Carme Forcadell, who served as the parliament speaker, as well as Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, the activists leading Catalonia’s main pro-independence grassroots groups at the time of the referendum. 

Nine of the accused were held in preventive detention for most of the process, despite calls for their release from human rights groups and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions. Arrested on October 16, 2017, Sànchez and Cuixart had spent nearly two years in pre-trial jail when the trial started.

Verdict: Nine leaders were found guilty of sedition, a criminal offense prosecuting "tumultuous uprisings to impede the enforcement of the law". They were cleared of the most serious accusation of violent rebellion. Three former ministers were additionally convicted of misuse of public funds, and another three escaped sedition charges but were found guilty of disobedience.

Prison terms for those found guilty of sedition ranged from 9 years for Cuixart and Sànchez to 13 years for Junqueras, with bans from public office of equal duration. The three ministers convicted of disobedience —Carles Mundó, Meritxell Budó, and Santi Vila— were disqualified for 20 months.

Stage: Trial over, verdict announced. After 52 sessions spanning four months and testimony from 422 witnesses, the trial ended in June 2019. When the ruling was announced the following month of October, widespread protests and altercations erupted in Barcelona and several Catalan towns. Catalan president Quim Torra described the verdict as "an act of vengeance, not of justice". Pro-independence leaders are currently serving their sentences.

A spin-off featuring former parliament bureau members

The former members of the Catalan parliament bureau, with speaker Carme Forcadell in the center (by Rafa Garrido)Spain’s High Court in Catalonia (TSJC)

Defendants: Pro-independence leaders tried in Spain’s Supreme Court repeatedly requested their case be moved to the Catalan high court, invoking the right to the natural judge. The Supreme Court admitted the request, but only for six of them: five former members of the parliament bureau and former MP from the far-left CUP party, Mireia Boya. 

As the former chamber speaker and head of the parliament bureau, Forcaell criticized the Supreme Court for not transferring her case along with her colleagues.

Charges: All six defendants are charged with the offense of disobedience for allowing laws enabling independence to be voted on and approved by Catalan lawmakers. Boya, along with Anna Gabriel who avoided prosecution by moving to Switzerland, is being charged for registering the initial proposal. They face a possible 20-month disqualification from public office and 30,000 euro fines.

Stage: Trial over, pending verdict. The trial, which only lasted four days, came to an end on July 24. 2020. 

The Catalan police leadership on trial

Catalonia's former police chief Josep Lluís Trapero arrives in Spain's National Court (by Javier Barbancho)Spain’s National Court

Defendants: Catalan police chief at the time of the independence bid, Josep Lluís Trapero is among four former police heads being prosecuted in Spain's National Court. The Mossos d'Esquadra police are accused of aiding the independence bid with a lack of action in preventing the referendum and handling the protests during Spanish police raids on September 20.

Charges: Trapero, another Mossos head, and a former interior ministry official are charged by the public prosecutor with sedition, and face up to 10 years in prison. Initial charges of rebellion were lowered following the cross-examination of witnesses. Another police head who is also accused of sedition risks a four-year jail term if found guilty.

Stage: Trial over, pending verdict. The trial ended in June 2020, following two months of hearings spanned over five months due to the pandemic.

30 people on trial over referendum logistics

Saül Gordillo, the director of the Catalan public radio (right), leaves the Barcelona local court (by Pol Solà)Local Barcelona court

Defendants: A court in Barcelona is also prosecuting some 30 people indicted over the independence bid, specifically for contributing to the logistics and organization of the October 1 referendum. The defendants include government officials and employees, civil servants, media workers, technicians and business people. Among those indicted are the Diplocat diplomacy council's former head, the former secretary of public information, and the former Catalan government delegate to the EU.

Charges: The defendants face a variety of charges, such as misuse of public funds, disobedience, deceit, revealing secrets and perversion of justice. Until the trial takes place, those accused have been granted liberty on bail of 5.8 million euros.

Stage: The court ended the investigation phase on September 10, 2020, but the trial's opening date is yet to be announced.

Referendum trials featuring police officers, voters, mayors, among others

Spanish police officers deployed in Girona to stop the referendum on October 1, 2017 (by Marina López)

All across Catalonia, different courts are handling other cases looking into the events surrounding the 2017 referendum and the role played by its many protagonists.

Police: Dozens of police and Guardia Civil officers are under investigation following reports of excessive use of force, with some 50 agents prosecuted in Barcelona's court number 7.

Junqueras' right-hand men: The first Catalan government officials detained in the run-up to the referendum, Lluís Salvadó and Josep Maria Jové, were indicted by the Catalan High Court and are awaiting trial for handling preparations for the vote as vice president Junqueras' right-hand men.

Mayors: A number of Catalan mayors were in the spotlight for contributing to the referendum being held in their hometowns. Such is the case of Bernat Solé, currently serving as Catalonia's foreign action minister, formerly the mayor of Agramunt, in Western Catalonia. The former president of the Catalan Association of Municipalities (ACM), Miquel Buch, who would go on to serve as interior minister, is also under unvestigation.

Voters: Scores of referendum voters present at polling stations on referendum days have been identified by police officers and are pending judicial proceedings. The most notorious might be that of Jordi Pesarrodona, a clown and local councilor from the Catalan town of Sant Joan de Vilatorrada, who was found guilty of disobedience and banned from public office for 14 months for a picture standing next to a police officer wearing the clown nose.

Beyond the 2017 referendum, other trials on Catalan independence

Catalan president Quim Torra abandons the government headquarters surrounded by protesters after being banned from office (by Mariona Puig)

While there are several judicial cases looking into the referendum push and its protagonists, the 2017 events had far-reaching consequences, leading to years of political and social turbulence that in turn produced new judicial proceedings.

Ousted Catalan president: Since coming to power in 2018, Quim Torra's presidency was marked by the very same circumstances that led to his unlikely rise to office: namely, the imprisonment and exile of Catalonia's political leaders. His unwillingness to remove yellow ribbons and other signs in favor of pro-independence leaders from the government headquarters' façade eventually led to his removal from office for disobedience.

CDR activists: The Committees in Defense of the Republic (CRD), a decentralized network of pro-independence protest groups responsible for civil disobedience actions, has seen some of its members arrested under severe accusations, like terrorism. Such is the case of Tamara Carrasco, who remained confined in her hometown of Viladecans for over a year, and later faced trial for the less serious offense of inciting public disorders.

Democratic Tsunami protest at AP-7 highway: The sentencing of Catalan leaders for sedition in October 2018 led to widespread protests all across Catalonia, some of which were directed by a secret organization named Democratic Tsunami. Along with the occupation of the Barcelona airport, one of the biggest protest actions was the blockage of the AP-7 highway at the French border, for which 196 people are under investigation.