Trial of former parliament speaker for allowing anti-monarchy votes begins 

Three other chamber bureau members also tried for disobedience face fines and disqualification

Former parliament speaker Roger Torrent speaks outside the Catalan High Court before giving testimony as part of his disobedience case, September 2021
Former parliament speaker Roger Torrent speaks outside the Catalan High Court before giving testimony as part of his disobedience case, September 2021 / Laura Fíguls
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

October 5, 2022 10:01 AM

October 5, 2022 07:49 PM

The trial of the former parliament speaker and current business minister Roger Torrent for disobedience began on Wednesday in the Catalan High Court.

Torrent, along with other former members of the bureau, Josep Costa, Eusebi Campdepadrós, and Adriana Delgado, were charged for allowing votes against the Spanish monarchy and self-determination to take place in the chamber.

All are members of Catalonia’s two ruling pro-independence parties, Esquerra Republicana (ERC) and Junts per Catalunya (JxCat). The crime does not carry a jail sentence but could see them barred from holding public office.

Before the trial started there was talk of it possibly being postponed for a later date as a petition to have one of the judges recused is yet to be resolved, as both the prosecution and three of the four defendants brought up. 

While the court has still not decided whether it will have one of the judges step aside, it said the matter should not delay the trial further, even if this means it may have to be retried in the future if there is a recusal. 

"Another example of repression and persecution"

The Catalan independence movement, as was to be expected, spoke out against the trial, and both Esquerra and Junts politicians accompanied the former parliament bureau members to court on Wednesday morning.  

In Parliament "you should be able to talk about everything," Torrent told the press before entering the court in Barcelona on Wednesday morning.

The former Catalan speaker, Roger Torrent, says that his trial is another example of Spain's "repression" of the independence movement / ACN

"This is a political conflict that should be able to be resolved politically, not with courts and judges," he said, calling the trial "yet another example of repression and persecution."

Trial is "judiciary interfering in the legislative branch," says Junts president

Junts president and suspended parliament speaker Laura Borràs, meanwhile, described it as "the judiciary interfering in the legislative branch," while acting parliament speaker Alba Vergès of Esquerra said it was a "new attack" from Spain, prompting criticism from unionist Ciudadanos and Vox.

The main pro-independence civil society groups, Òmnium and the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), also weighed in on what they described as an affront to Catalonia's institutions and a "politicized trial."

The case against the former parliament bureau members has even elicited support from abroad, with Hywel Williams, an MP for the Welsh Plaid Cymru party commenting, "It is beyond belief that they are facing criminal charges for allowing open debate." 

"When another former speaker, Carme Forcadell, was prosecuted for allowing debate on independence and was jailed for 10 years, I raised the matter in the House of Commons with the then Speaker John Bercow," he said. "He confirmed, to no one’s surprise that such a thing could not occur in the UK."

Up to 20-month disqualifications

The court announced in March 2021 that it was admitting a criminal lawsuit from Spain’s public prosecutor against Torrent and three of his former colleagues at the chamber’s bureau.

Prosecutors are requesting 1 year and 8 months of disqualification and €30,000 fines for Torrent, Costa, and Campdepadrós, while 1 year and 4 months and €24,000 is requested for Delgado.  

Costa was briefly arrested last year for not attending a pre-trial hearing. 

Anti-monarchy and self-determination motions

Torrent is accused of contravening Spain’s Constitutional Court and authorizing votes that on motions were deemed unlawful.

The motions were passed on November 12, 2019, with subsequent amendments on November 26. They were backed by pro-independence parties, holding a majority of seats in the chamber.

One of the texts stressed that parliament "reiterates and will reiterate as many times as MPs choose the disapproval of the monarchy, the defense of self-determination and the affirmation of the sovereignty of the people of Catalonia to decide their political future."

The second one saw the chamber accusing Spain's Constitutional Court of "censorship" on self-determination and criticism of monarchy discussions.

During the debate on the second motion, unionist Ciutadans announced that their party would take the passed motion to the prosecutor's office. "You are the champions of disobedience," said the then-leader of the party, Lorena Roldán.

In November 2019, the Constitutional Court had already partly suspended the motion, warning the parliament and the members of its bureau, who at the time were under speaker Roger Torrent, of the criminal consequences of not complying with its rulings.

"The judicial system is more worried to go after freedoms than to guarantee them," Torrent tweeted after it was announced in March 2022 that he and his colleagues would face trial.

If the four are ultimately found guilty of disobedience, they could face a ban from public office, joining a long list of Catalan officials sacked for their role in the independence push, including former president Quim Torra and members of the cabinet that called a referendum and attempted to break away from Spain in 2017.