Supreme Court backs Catalan President’s prosecution for “disobeying” ban on independence vote
Catalonia’s Supreme Court (TSJC) has stated that there are “signs” that the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas; the Vice President, Joana Ortega; and the Education Minister, Irene Rigau, “did not obey” the Constitutional Court’s ban on the symbolic independence vote, which took place on 9 November. On Thursday, 3 weeks after it accepted all the criminal complaints filed against Mas, Ortega and Rigau for having authorised and co-organised the non-binding vote, the TSJC issued the notifications justifying its decision. The Court considers there to be evidence suggesting they may have committed disobedience, perversion of the legal process and embezzlement offenses. Therefore, the high judicial body is launching a corresponding investigation, which will focus on the vote’s preparation between the Constitutional Court’s ban and the day of the vote itself.
Barcelona (ACN).- Catalonia’s Supreme Court has stated that there are “signs” that the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas; the Vice President, Joana Ortega; and the Education Minister, Irene Rigau, “did not obey” the Constitutional Court’s ban on the symbolic independence vote, which took place on 9 November. On Thursday, 3 weeks after it accepted all the criminal complaints filed against Mas, Ortega and Rigau for having authorised and co-organised the non-binding vote, the Supreme Court (TSJC) issued the notifications justifying its decision. The TSJC considers there to be evidence suggesting they may have committed disobedience, perversion of the legal process and embezzlement offenses. It stated that the prosecuted members of the Catalan Government may have “taken effectiveness away from the Constitutional Court’s ban”, since they carried on with the vote preparations despite “the specific and determined temporary suspension orders”. Therefore, the high judicial body is launching a corresponding investigation, which will focus on the vote’s preparation between the Constitutional Court’s ban and the day of the vote itself. The acceptance of the complaints by the Supreme Court does not mean that Mas, Ortega and Rigau are already formally accused and that a trial will be organised against them, it only means that the TSJC considers there to be enough legal grounds to launch a judicial investigation about the facts reported in the complaints.
The prosecution of Mas, Ortega and Rigau for having authorised and co-organised the symbolic vote on independence from Spain, in which 2.35 million citizens participated, has caused great outrage throughout Catalan society. Thousands of people have pled guilty in solidarity and hundreds queued in front of the Supreme Court’s building the day after it accepted the prosecution of the Catalan President. If the judicial investigation concludes there are enough grounds for a trial, the Catalan President, Artur Mas, could be formally accused and, if found guilty, could face a maximum of a 15-year suspension from public office and a two-years fine.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Catalonia started to notify the admission of the criminal complaints against Mas, Ortega and Rigau for November’s symbolic vote on independence. In fact, the TSJC has accepted the entire complaint filed by the Spanish Public Prosecution Office, which pressed charges against the advice of the public prosecutors of Catalonia’s Supreme Court. This complaint has been extremely controversial, since the Spanish Government and the conservative and Spanish nationalist People’s party (PP) pressured the Director of the Public Prosecution Office, Eduardo Torres-Dulce, to press charges against Mas and other member of the Catalan Government. A month after doing so, Torres-Dulce resigned from the position to which he was directly appointed by the Spanish Government.
Besides the complaint filed by the Public Prosecution Office, the Supreme Court has partially accepted those filed by the extreme-right trade union Manos Limpias. Manos Limpias’ complaint was the first one to be filed. In addition, other complaints partially accepted were filed by the Spanish nationalist and populist party UPyD, the extreme-right party VOX, the extreme-right association Pro Justicia Siglo XXI and two Spanish Police unions.
Furthermore, the TSJC has limited the prosecution to Mas, Ortega and Rigau, excluding other members of the Catalan Government, such as the Home Affairs Minister (in charge of Police), Ramon Espadaler, and the Presidency Minister, Francesc Homs. In addition, directors of public high schools (where the vote took place) and mayors who authorised the temporary use of municipal facilities to host polling stations have also been excluded from the criminal prosecution. The Court has also ruled out other offenses included in some complaints, such as “sedition” and “rebellion”.
The notifications have been written by the 6 judges of the Civil and Penal Division of the Catalan Supreme Court, which is headed by the institution’s President, Miguel Ángel Gimeno. They explain the facts and the demands of the organisations filing the complaints, and later they enumerate the arguments for accepting the complaints and launching a judicial investigation. The TSJC will open a judicial process for only 4 offenses, ruling out that of “usurpation” of powers for having authorised a “hidden referendum”, which was claimed in some of the complaints. However, it adds the offence of “revealing secrets”, highlighted by the police union, since private citizens’ data may have been used to organise the vote.
Doubts over the legal grounds for prosecuting the Catalan President for authorising a symbolic vote
Despite the important political implications of prosecuting Catalonia’s maximum representative for organising a symbolic and democratic vote, many legal experts consider that there is not enough of a legal basis for such accusations, as the main Catalan prosecutors have already pointed out. Firstly, the vote was not “a hidden referendum” but “a citizen participation process”, which the Catalan Government has the powers to organise. In fact, the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, acknowledged the day before the vote that it was not “a referendum nor anything similar to one”. Secondly, it is hard to argue that Mas, Ortega and Rigau committed “embezzlement” by using public resources in a process in which 2.35 million citizens participated, clearly showing the public interest of such a vote.
Thirdly, according to Spanish legislation, in order to disobey a court, the court has to have sent a reminder or a warning, in addition to the original verdict, which it did not do. Additionally, “perversion of a legal process” requires public officers to have consciously made an unfair decision, which does not really fit a citizen participation process run by volunteers. Finally, there was no electoral register and all the people who voted or participated as volunteers ‘de facto’ authorised the organisers to temporarily store their personal data to create a file, which was destroyed a few days after the vote.