Human Rights court finds Spain guilty of leaking ID photos of Catalan pro-referendum judges to press

Strasbourg institution says magistrates' right to privacy was breached when La Razón newspaper published their pictures

European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (by Reuters)
European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (by Reuters) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

June 28, 2022 10:48 AM

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has found Spain guilty of breaching some Catalan pro-referendum judges' right to privacy when, in March 2014, Spanish newspaper 'La Razón' published their ID pictures in an article naming the 33 magistrates who had signed a manifesto in favor of a vote on independence in Catalonia. 

The case, which dates back to a few months before the non-binding November 2014 independence vote under then-Catalan president Artur Mas, was brought forth by 20 of the magistrates and concerns both the compiling of police reports on judges who were favorable to a referendum as well as the fact that personal information taken from the police database was leaked to the press.

The court unanimously ruled on Tuesday morning that "the mere existence of the police reports, which had not been compiled in accordance with any law" contravenes Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, that is to say, the right to respect for private and family life. 

The ECHR also found that Spain's investigation into the source of the leak was "inadequate" as it failed "to interview a person crucial to the investigation, the Senior Chief of Police of Barcelona."

Spain has been ordered to pay €4,200 for non-pecuniary damages and €3,993 for costs and expenses.

Legal battle in Spain

The judges' initial complaint was dismissed by a court in Madrid, which found that although a criminal offense had occurred, it could not be attributed to one person.

This decision was appealed and then dismissed again by the same court, which once again said it could not attribute criminal responsibility.

The magistrates then appealed before a provincial court, which dismissed the case in 2016. They also filed a complaint against Spain's Interior Ministry and 'La Razón' with the Data Protection Agency, which was unsuccessful, but on appeal, the National Court ordered a full investigation that is still pending

In May 2022, 'El País' newspaper reported that former Spanish police chief Eugenio Pino had secretly investigated the judges in favor of a Catalan independence referendum and had attempted to eliminate evidence to prevent the people behind the leak from being identified.