Penal code reform: proposed changes explained

Sedition erased and replaced with public order offences after agreement between Catalan and Spanish governments

Catalan president Pere Aragonès and Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez in talks at the Palau de la Generalitat
Catalan president Pere Aragonès and Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez in talks at the Palau de la Generalitat / Guillem Roset
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

November 13, 2022 07:05 PM

November 13, 2022 07:13 PM

Sedition – an archaic crime for which Catalan pro-independence leaders were handed down decade-long sentences – is to be erased and replaced with lesser public order offenses. 

That is the number one takeaway from the proposed changes to the penal code registered with congress by Spain's governing parties on Friday and announced the previous day by Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez.   

The legal reforms – a result of summer talks between the Catalan and Spanish governments – are expected to have enough support in congress to become law, possibly by the end of the year. 

Here, Catalan News takes a look at the current and proposed texts and what the changes could mean. 


"Chapter I of Title XXI is erased" reads the new document. The chapter in question has a one-word title: Sedition.

That word – and the six articles below it that since 1822 have laid out the punishment for the crime of sedition – will disappear from the penal code. 

Described in article 544 as "rising up publicly and tumultuously to prevent, through force or outside legal channels, the application of the law," sedition carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.  

Its removal could have implications for the pro-independence leaders that were imprisoned for sedition. Although they have since been pardoned, their original judgements still stand, including bans on holding public office. These could now be revised. 

There could be implications too for exiled pro-independence figures, including former president Carles Puigdemont. 

If they were to be tried in Spain, they would not face sedition charges. On the other hand, Socialist MP Patxi López has argued that the extradition process could become easier, as extraditions were prevented in some cases as sedition did not exist as a crime in other European countries. 

Public Disorder 

The other major changes to the penal code are to Chapter III of Title XXI: On public disorder

Article 557 is amended in several aspects. Firstly, public order offences disturbing the peace, which currently apply to "acts of violence or threats" against "people or things" will widen to include two more categories: "acts of violence or intimidation" on "people or things" (as before), "obstructing public roads causing risk to the life or health of people", or "invading facilities or buildings." 

Some groups have complained about this change, including the Sindicat de Llogateres (Tenants' Union), whose spokesperson Jaime Palomera condemned the new text as an "attack against the right to assembly and protest." 

These public order offences will carry a sentence of six months to three years

Secondly, the new text sets a punishment of between three and five years' imprisonment for "aggravated public offences" for those who commit the above acts "with a crowd that has a suitable number, organization and purpose to seriously affect public order." 

Previously, the maximum sentence for the crime of aggravated public disorder was six years. 

The draft reform also adds that if organizers are considered "authorities", the penalty of disqualification from public office "will be absolute for a period of six to eight years".  

The replacement of sedition with public disorder offences therefore means lower sentences, but also the new law would require there to be "violence or intimidation," something which wasn't necessary in the sedition convictions handed down to pro-independence leaders – it was enough that there was "mass disobedience", that prevented authorities from carrying out tasks. 

One text, many interpretations

Interpretations of the reforms differ within the independence movement. While governing party Esquerra has welcomed them – with president Pere Aragonès pointing out, for example, that the "Supreme Court did not find referendum leaders guilty of public disorder" – Junts per Catalunya's Jordi Turull says the rewritten laws are "tailor-made" to say the events around the independence referendum of 2017 were a crime. 

Away from the independence camp, even the two parties who have put forward the reform do not seem to agree on how it will be interpreted.  

The leader of the Socialists in Catalonia, Salvador Illa, said: "The events of 2017 are not decriminalized, and we say 'no' to amnesty," while the leader of Unidas Podemos in congress, Jaume Asens said: "There's no crime in the [reformed] penal code that allows the prosecution of [the independence push of] 2017, that's my opinion." 

The opinion that counts, that of Spain's Supreme Court, remains to be seen.