PP abandons new judiciary head talks after PSOE proposes halving sedition sentence

People’s Party considers changing criminal code a way to let judges be "lenient with those against Spain’s unity"

Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez meets with the leader of the opposition People's Party, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, at the Spanish government headquarters
Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez meets with the leader of the opposition People's Party, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, at the Spanish government headquarters / PP / David Mudarra
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Madrid

October 28, 2022 06:04 PM

The leader of the opposition People's Party in the Spanish Congress, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, walked away from talks with the Socialist party over appointing a new president of the judiciary on Thursday, after Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's party proposed halving the sentence for the crime of sedition. 

"Changing the law to improve judicial independence is not compatible with changing the law to tell judges to be more lenient with those against Spain’s unity," a statement released by the PP reads.

The two parties have been in meetings since October 10, a day after head of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), Carlos Lesmes, resigned to agree on a replacement. 

Lesmes’s mandate expired in 2018 but remained in the position as there had not been any political consensus on appointing his successor.

After Feijóo’s decision, the Socialists urged the head of the opposition to "comply with the Spanish Constitution," without any "conditions or threats." 

They believe the Spanish leader’s push is just an "excuse," a view shared by Catalan foreign minister Meritxell Serret, who believes that the People’s Party is trying to block Spain’s judicial organization.

Feijóo said on Friday morning that he does not oppose dialogue about nationalism, but he does not "share their criteria about the state or the judiciary." He criticized that the executive's intention is to legislate in line with the independence camp "without them making any concession." 

Deal, but no deal

Hours before Feijóo revealed his decision, Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez announced on midday Thursday during an official trip in South Africa that the deal between both sides was "ready," something that the People’s Party denied. 

"All regional presidents and everyone at the People’s Party agrees," the president of the Andalusian regional government, Juanma Moreno, said on Friday. 

For him, altering the crime of sedition means that former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, "who has been laughing at the Spanish justice for the last five years, can return home without facing any consequences," Moreno added.

Crime of sedition

The potential deal to appoint a new head of the judiciary broke after the Spanish government announced its intention to halve sentences for the crime of sedition. 

The goal is, as reported by Spanish newspaper El País on Monday, to align Spanish law with European legislation. Currently, the maximum sentence for the crime of sedition is of 15 years in Spain, while in Europe the average sentence is six years. 

While the new sedition law reform will halve the number of years, it does not do away with the offense under Spanish legislation altogether.

Some of the most notorious recent sedition cases were of the nine Catalan leaders involved in the 2017 independence bid. Back in October 2019, the Spanish Supreme Court pro-independence leaders to up to 13 years in prison for sedition for their involvement in the organization of the referendum.

They were pardoned by the executive in June 2021 after spending over three years behind bars.

How appointment of judges' governing body works in Spain

The CGPJ is in charge of appointments, promotions, and transfers of judges, as well as inspecting how courts work and "staunchly safeguarding the independence of the judiciary," protecting it from the other powers. 

Yet, it is the Congress and the Senate, the legislative power, that appoints the members of the CGPJ leadership. Both chambers require three-fifths majorities to appoint a new team when the five-year mandates in CGPJ expire. 

The CGPJ president is also the head of Spain's Supreme Court.