Judicial cases on Catalan independence in Europe halted due to Covid-19

Puigdemont's extradition procedure at standstill, as is jailed Junqueras' MEP recognition claim

Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont speaking in the Catalan government's office in Brussels (by Alan Ruiz Terol)
Former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont speaking in the Catalan government's office in Brussels (by Alan Ruiz Terol) / ACN

ACN | Brussels

April 8, 2020 12:16 PM

Covid-19 has halted the usual activity of politics and justice not only in Catalonia and Spain as a whole, but also throughout Europe.

Among the countless number of ongoing procedures, the Catalan independence leaders' judicial cases, especially those before the EU, are also at a standstill, including that on former president Carles Puigdemont's possible extradition or jailed politician Oriol Junqueras' MEP recognition claims after being elected in the May 2019 EU vote.

Puigdemont's extradition

Puigdemont, together with three other Catalan ministers at the time of the 2017 referendum, has an ongoing European arrest warrant procedure against him – the third Spanish judiciary attempt of its kind to extradite them for their role in the independence bid.

Since Puigdemont, together with former ministers Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí were elected MEPs in the last EU vote – and were eventually recognized as such by the European Parliament after an EU court ruling last December –, their European arrest warrants were suspended by a Belgian court (for Puigdemont and Comín) and by the Scottish justice system (for Ponsatí).

The magistrates halted the processes pending the decision of the EU parliament on whether to lift their immunity as MEPs – as was requested by Spain's Supreme Court.

Yet, the EU chamber committee in charge of discussing the matter canceled all meetings in March and April. While a rapporteur was appointed for Puigdemont and Comín's cases, there was no time to appoint one for Ponsatí before all parliamentary activity abruptly ceased.

The extradition procedure for another former minister, Lluís Puig, is also pending, but he is not an MEP – the delay is only due to the postponement of judicial hearings in Belgium because of Covid-19.

Junqueras' MEP claims

The former Catalan vice president, Oriol Junqueras, who is serving a 12-year sentence for his role behind the independence referendum, was elected MEP in the May 2019 election.

He was barred from taking up his seat by Spain's judiciary, but last December the EU court ultimately said he should have been allowed to become MEP because his sentence had not yet been announced when he was elected and therefore he had not been disqualified from office.

Junqueras subsequently became MEP, but only for a week before Spain's electoral authority and the Supreme Court officially informed the EU chamber that he was barred from office. Brussels then stripped him of his MEP status.

Junqueras filed a lawsuit before the General Court of the EU, but the hearing date has not been set yet and all hearings in the Luxembourg court have been delayed until at least May 4.

Puigdemont and Comín also have an open case in the same court, which was filed when they were not recognized as MEPs. Although they now have this recognition, their case is still open.

Puigdemont vs Spain

The only case not yet halted is that of Puigdemont against the Supreme Court magistrate in charge of his inquiry, Pablo Llarena.

The reasons cited in the lawsuit filed in Belgium include the fact that, according to Puigdemont and his former ministers in Brussels, their right to "an impartial and independent judge" had been violated, as well as their right to a "fair trial" and the "presumption of innocence."

The Belgian court in charge will decide whether they have the authority to try the case or ask the European Court of Justice if they do by April 24 "at the latest." If it decides it can proceed with the case, it would hold another preliminary hearing, but if they decide to disregard it, Puigdemont and his former ministers will have the opportunity to appeal the decision in cassation court.

If the court decides to ask the ECJ for its opinion, it would have to wait for them to make a pronouncement before proceeding with the issue.