Judges overseeing president's trial step aside pending recusal call

High court to consider accusations by Quim Torra's lawyers that judges show "glaring lack of impartiality" in case charging government head with disobedience

The Catalan president, Quim Torra, leaving Catalonia's high court in May 2019 after a hearing (by Pau Cortina)
The Catalan president, Quim Torra, leaving Catalonia's high court in May 2019 after a hearing (by Pau Cortina) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

September 13, 2019 05:16 PM

The judges overseeing the Catalan president’s trial for disobedience have stepped aside from the case while the politician’s call for them to be recused is resolved. 

This occurred on Friday as Spain’s high court in Catalonia (TSJC) accepted the recusal request for consideration, giving the parties in the trial three days to present their views on the president’s petition. 

Jesús María Barrientos, president of the TSJC, and judge Mercedes Armas could again take over the case if the recusal request fails. 

President Quim Torra has been summoned to attend trial for disobedience on September 25 and 26 after failing to promptly remove signs in favor of jailed leaders during an election campaign. The dates of his summons clash with one of the most crucial parliamentary debates in Catalonia, and the head of government is yet to decide which of the two events he will attend. 

Reasons for recusal

Torra's defense lawyers have demanded that the judge hearing the charge of disobedience against the Catalan president recuse himself because of what they call his "glaring lack of impartiality."

Torra argues that Barrientos lacks "objective and subjective impartiality" due to his publicly expressed political opinions.

In a written request, the lawyers say that Barrientos has openly taken a position on a number of issues related to the independence movement and "has a political stance that is diametrically opposed" to Torra's.

Torra’s case

Torra clashed with the electoral board during the run-up to the April 2019 Spanish general election, initially resisting orders to remove yellow ribbon symbols from the front of the Catalan government building during the campaign.

Torra eventually complied with the order, although after the final deadline, replacing the symbols with a banner promoting freedom of expression. However, the prosecutor chose to charge the president with disobedience and the TSJC decided to go ahead with the trial.

While the lawyers say it is legitimate for the judge to have political opinions, they insist that judges are expected to keep their opinions to themselves, as making them public "affects the image of impartiality that all those called on to judge should have." 

Should Torra be found guilty of disobedience, it could see the Catalan president barred from holding public office.