Two Constitutional Court judges state that Catalan trial verdict is 'disproportionate'

Defense lawyer believes lack of consensus among top judges could be "prelude" to European justice revoking prison sentences

Exterior image of the Constitutional Court
Exterior image of the Constitutional Court / Tània Tàpia

ACN | Barcelona

April 29, 2021 12:27 PM

The verdict on one of the jailed leaders for their role in the 2017 independence referendum has been questioned by two Constitutional Court judges.

The majority of magistrates supported the 12-year prison time on sedition and misuse of funds charges for former government spokesperson, Jordi Turull, who is able to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg.

However, two members of the Constitutional Court believe that the original Supreme Court verdict was "disproportionate," contrasting the opinion held by their seven colleagues – two more members, Candido Conde-Pumpido and Antonio Narváez, withdrew from the case after the defenses accused them of being biased, while another one, Fernando Valdés, stepped down last October.  

Juan Antonio Xiol and Maria Luisa Balaguer believe that the court's deliberations should have "taken into greater account an open interpretation of the principle of legality and should be more in accordance with the common legal culture of the EU countries."

They said that the court should have been more "flexible" in making sure that the “rule of law” was guaranteed by "protecting the fundamental rights even for those who do not share this respect for the rule of law."

Xiol and Balaguer's arguments are based on their "remarkable doubts" on whether a crime of sedition was committed.

Indeed, they say that for instance, the September 20, 2017 demonstration held outside the Catalan department of economy, which was being raided in order to halt  referendum preparations was probably not a "tumultuous and public uprising," as the sentencing suggests.

"The events on September 20 developed as a demonstration, which is protected by the right to assemble," they say, highlighting that the rally was not called by the government, of which Turull was a part.

They also said that the incidents on October 1, 2017, the referendum day, were "not widespread" and that they "highly doubt" that the demonstration or the vote put democracy at risk.

Against the majority of magistrates

Their opinions contradict that of the majority of magistrates, who rejected Turull's appeal, defending that his sentence is not disproportionate.

The seven remaining judges said that the lack of violence in the independence push does not mean that "a tumultuous uprising" did not occur.

"The crime of sedition does not necessarily involve causing injuries or the use of weapons; so the lack of these circumstances does not prevent someone from having committed the crime."

They say that the fact that Turull did not explicitly call for violence is not enough to consider that he did not commit the crime of sedition.  

Andreu Van den Eynde, the defense lawyer for two of the jailed leaders, Oriol Junqueras and Raül Romeva, reacted to the lack of consensus in the Constitutional Court saying that this could be the "prelude" to the European Court of Human Rights revoking the verdict – Turull has already announced he will place an appeal before Strasbourg, and the other eight imprisoned politicians are expected to do so once the top court has its say over the cases.

According to the lawyer, Xiol and Balaguer say that the events for which the jailed leaders are serving their time behind bars are fundamental rights, "so their sentencing inevitably affects [these rights], causing the chilling effect that the European Court of Human Rights prohibits."