Judges will not have to know Catalan to work in Catalonia states the Constitutional Court

Spain’s Constitutional Court has responded to an appeal from the Catalan Parliament dating from 2004. The appeal was against the Judicial Power’s last reform, approved by the Spanish Parliament, in the time of José María Aznar. Now, the Constitutional Court states that the Catalan Government only has competence over the non-judicial staff working in the justice administration, but not over the judges and other judicial staff. This means that the knowledge of Catalan language will not be a condition to work as a judge in Catalonia. Therefore Catalan citizens may not be able to use their mother tongue in their justice procedures or they will have to use interpretation services.


October 20, 2012 12:51 AM

Barcelona (ACN).- On Friday, the Spanish Constitutional Court has issued a sentence by which judges working in Catalonia will not have to know Catalan, which is Catalonia’s official language together with Spanish. The Constitutional Court has responded to a Catalan Parliament appeal from 2004 against the Judicial Power’s last reform, approved by the Spanish Parliament after a proposal from the Spanish Government, run by José María Aznar, of the People’s Party (PP). Eight years after the appeal, the Constitutional Court has passed the sentence that judicial competences are run at Spanish level and therefore the Catalan Government only has powers over non-judicial staff. This means that the Catalan Government cannot establish that judges and other judicial staff working in Catalonia are obliged to know Catalan language in order to guarantee that Catalan citizens can fulfil their judicial procedures or appear before a judge using their mother tongue. In fact, studies show that the use of Catalan language within the justice staff is very low and that most of the judicial staff only speaks Spanish. This means that citizens using Catalan often feel obliged or they are directly asked to change language to Spanish.

The Constitutional Court stated that article 149.5 of the Constitution indicates that judicial powers are exclusively run at Spanish level. The Court has stated that judicial civil servants’ corps has a “national” status, which “impedes the Catalan Government to nominate the members of qualified courts”. However, the sentence recognises that the Catalan Government manages the non-judicial staff and the facilities. The sentence clearly says that for job positions in Autonomous Communities with judicial powers and with other official languages than Spanish, the “oral and written knowledge” of this language “may be considered as a plus” but not as a condition.

Back in 2004, the Catalan Parliament considered some points of Aznar’s reform to not respect Catalan citizens’ rights and to invade Catalan competences, since the Catalan Government manages the justice staff and facilities. The appeal was going against 30 points of the reform, including the point of not considering the knowledge of the co-official languages of an Autonomous Community to be a necessary condition to work in such a Community. Aznar’s reform was to enable judges to work in Catalonia or the Basque Country for decades without knowing Catalan or Basque, respectively. The main argument was enabling the judges’ work mobility within Spain and not discriminating a judge to access a position if he or she came from another part of the country. However, under the reform, the rights of Catalan citizens living in Catalonia were not fully guaranteed as they may not be able to freely use their mother tongue while appearing before a judge, instead being asked to change language or obliging the court to use interpretation services.