2017 referendum electoral board members acquitted

Barcelona local court rules out prison sentences for five individuals for disobedience and overtaking of public office

Screenshot of the trial on the five 2017 referendum electoral board members, on March 3, 2021 (by TSJC)
Screenshot of the trial on the five 2017 referendum electoral board members, on March 3, 2021 (by TSJC) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

April 15, 2021 01:25 PM

The five members of the 2017 Catalan independence referendum board members were acquitted on Thursday.

Politics and law professors Marc Marsal, Josep Pagès, Tània Verge, and Jordi Matas, along with Girona lawyer Marta Alsina, were accused of disobedience and overtaking of public office, with the public prosecutor requesting sentences of two years and nine months in jail for each.

Yet, a Barcelona local criminal court ruled it out after hearing the case in a trial held in early March 2021.

The judge stated that no evidence of any lawbreaking action by the individuals after the Constitutional Court warned that their newly created institution was illegal was found.

"There is not any document in the cause that proves it," reads the sentence, which also adds that there is no evidence of them having met after the top judges ruled against them in September 2017.

The public prosecutor maintained during the trial that they had signed administrative decisions although they were aware that the Constitutional Court had already suspended the Catalan referendum laws that enabled the creation of such an electoral board.

The prosecutor requested an alternative conviction to prison for displaying disobedience towards judicial decrees, carrying a €5,400 fine for each and a year's disqualification from monitoring elections – but the court also dismissed this possibility.

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 have been acquitted after a trial that was 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.