Trial for 2017 referendum electoral board members now underway

Five officials could face almost three years in jail for having stepped down before vote after several requests from the Constitutional Court 


Some pro-independence officials gathered in Barcelona's Ciutat de la Justícia to support 2017 referendum electoral board members, on March 3, 2021 (by Raquel Navarro / Nerea Colomé)
Some pro-independence officials gathered in Barcelona's Ciutat de la Justícia to support 2017 referendum electoral board members, on March 3, 2021 (by Raquel Navarro / Nerea Colomé) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

March 3, 2021 12:53 PM

The myriad of judicial cases stemming from the 2017 Catalan referendum continue to progress - on Wednesday, brought to court were the five members of the electoral board formed to monitor the plebiscite.

They face a two-day trial in a Barcelona local criminal court in which the public prosecutor has requested sentences of 2 years and 9 months in jail. They are being charged with disobedience and overtaking of public office, but not misuse of funds as originally planned.

If this is not accepted by the court, the prosecutor requests an alternative conviction for displaying disobedience towards judicial decrees, carrying a €5,400 fine for each and a year barred from monitoring elections.

Politics and law professors Marc Marsal, Josep Pagès, Tània Verge and Jordi Matas are accused in this case, and their universities' rectors supported them ahead of the trial. Girona lawyer Marta Alsina also faces the judicial procedure. 

Pro-independence parties' support

On Wednesday morning, pro-independence party officials gathered outside Barcelona's Ciutat de la Justícia, where the trial is being held, to offer support to the accused individuals. 

They believe that the trial is yet another example of "repression" coming from the Spanish state, which feels particularly significant now as pro-independence parties won the biggest vote share ever in the recent February 14 election.

Meanwhile unionist parties such as Ciudadanos stated that the former electoral authority members were "separatist academics, outstanding when it comes to sectarianism but failing at empathizing with Catalans whose rights were eradicated."

Constitutional Court obliged them to step down

When the referendum law (the law which enabled it) was passed in parliament in a highly controversial plenary session on September 6, 2017, a five-member board to monitor the vote was also approved.

A few days later, Spain's Constitutional Court threatened to impose a fine of €12,000 per day if they continued in their positions. They had been presented with several previous warnings stating that they had to step down because the referendum had been deemed illegal. 

The government accepted the abolition of a referendum monitoring authority after they stepped down on September 26, a week before the vote. 

Yet, three and a half years later they are now facing a trial that has already been postponed three times. 

Actions as election authority members

In the two weeks that they spent at their posts, they named territorial electoral authority members, agreed to accept organizations willing to take part in the referendum organization and greenlighted the official sample of ballots for the plebiscite. 

They also oversaw the government campaign encouraging people to vote and decided on the timings of the electoral procedure. 

All of these actions were taken once the Constitutional Court had already suspended the laws enabling the referendum and electoral authority – although, they did not resign until the court threatened to impose the daily fine upon each member.