Parliament speaker sentenced to jail - what happens next?

Laura Borràs sentenced to 4.5 years and disqualified from holding public office for 13 years

Laura Borràs gives a press conference outside the Catalan parliament shortly after her corruption conviction
Laura Borràs gives a press conference outside the Catalan parliament shortly after her corruption conviction / Natàlia Segura
Gerard Escaich Folch

Gerard Escaich Folch | @gescaichfolch | Barcelona

March 30, 2023 03:30 PM

March 30, 2023 07:23 PM

The future of the position of Catalan parliament speaker is currently up in the air, and depends on what political parties and possibly Spain's Electoral Board (JEC) do next, after suspended speaker Laura Borràs was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison and disqualified from holding public office for 13 years by Catalonia's High Court on Thursday.

Borràs is also the president of the one of the main pro-independence parties, Junts per Catalunya. The court's verdict now opens the door to the possibility of leadership change in both the chamber and the political party.

The parliament will not take any definitive action yet as the chamber's legislation only states a member of parliament must be stripped of their seat when a final verdict is reached; Borràs can still take her case to the Supreme Court.

But even if lawmakers in the chamber do not make any decision, the Electoral Board can oust Borràs as an MP even if the verdict can still be appealed, a move that would therefore leave the position of parliament speaker vacant as only MPs are allowed to hold positions on the parliament bureau.

Borràs was suspended as parliament speaker last summer when bureau members of Esquerra Republicana, the Socialist party, and far-left CUP voted in favor of applying the chamber regulation's Article 25.4, which states that any member of the chamber sent to trial on corruption charges must be suspended.


However, for Jesús Palomar, a politics professor at the University of Barcelona, "nothing has changed at this moment" with the announcement of the verdict, and everything remains "similar" to until now. "The only difference is that there is an actual verdict," he pointed out, and multiple options remain open.

Article 24

Article 24 of the parliament legislation states that there has to be a "final verdict" before losing one's status as an MP. As Borràs' sentence is not final, her lawyers can take the case to the Supreme Court, something which Palomar believes will happen, and until then, "everything will remain the same."

For this reason, the parliament bureau did not meet on Thursday, even though some political groups requested it.

"But even if there is an appeal, pro-independence parties could be thinking about the next steps regarding the parliament speaker position, and this is the key point. What will now happen if parties put an end to the vice speaker, Alba Vergés, acting as a speaker, and a new speaker is voted?" Palomar said to Catalan News.

Electoral Board

After the decision from the Catalan High Court, the Electoral Board could, as already happened with the former president Quim Torra or with former MP Pau Juvillà, oust Laura Borràs as parliament speaker. To set the ball in motion, a parliamentary group would have to submit the request to the Electoral Board, and in that case, it would have to act and oust the speaker.

"While Laura Borràs does not want to recover her position as parliament speaker, it would not be legally understandable for political parties or for the Electoral Board to oust her," Jesús Palomar said.

Comparing the situation between former president Quim Torra and Laura Borràs, Palomar considers that "the JEC should not decide as promptly as it did with Torra, as the suspended parliament speaker is not currently undertaking her role."

Partially pardon request

The magistrates of the Catalan High Court considered the Junts president guilty of forging official documents, being the initiator of the crime of commercial document forgery, and administrative breach of duty for splitting contracts to avoid public tenders favoring her friend and IT specialist Isaías Herrero, who pled guilty after securing a deal with the prosecution.

However, the court has also asked the Spanish government to partially pardon her to reduce her sentence by two and a half years, thereby avoiding prison time.

This legal mechanism is used when the court understands that it must impose a certain penalty but at the same time considers it excessive, in this case, because "it does not allow for sentence reduction procedures."

Spanish law dictates that in most cases, first-time offenders of financial crimes do not enter prison if their convictions are two years or under. 

In this case, as the "pardon is not for after she enters prison, but rather it is the same magistrate [who gave the verdict] who is asking for the pardon," it is more likely that the Spanish government implements this measure before the sentence is enforced.

As Palomares said to Catalan News, in their decision, in practice, judges are telling her: "We partially pardon you just so you avoid entering prison."

Potential new parliament speaker

If the Electoral Board ousts Laura Borràs, politicians would need to find a new speaker, opening the door for Junts, the party Borràs is the president of, to negotiate to propose a member of the party to take on the role or not.

Esquerra, the only party in government after Junts quit in October, has already stated that the post of speaker has to remain for a pro-independence MP - yet, if no agreement was found among the forces in favor of a split with Spain, alternative alliances may arise. The Socialists and Esquerra have 33 MPs each out of 135.

Laura Borràs was suspended as parliament speaker on July 28, and since then, a member of the pro-independence ERC party, Alba Vergés, has been the vice speaker acting as speaker.