Eight examples of dirty tactics employed by Spanish Supreme Court in referendum trial

  • From arrogance and haste and the ban on international observers to the obstacles facing the political prisoners’ lawyers and relatives

Josep Casulleras Nualart
20.02.2019 - 12:16
Actualització: 20.02.2019 - 13:16

The Spanish Supreme Court is aware of the international attention being paid to the trial against the Catalan leaders and it is well-aware that Strasbourg is watching with great interest. As a result –following an investigation which has been roundly criticised by hundreds of lawyers who see it as an outrage, heavily politicized and full of flagrant violations of fundamental rights– the chamber which is to host the trial, presided over by Manuel Marchena, has been more careful in its recent dealings with the defendants. Some concessions have been made, but little aside from deciding not to serve them a cold sandwich for lunch every day in the holding cells beneath the courthouse. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court’s desire to stick to the official version of events espoused by Llarena over a period of months, in terms of violence and rebellion, together with an obsession with ending the trial before the election campaign in May have resulted in the use of dirty tactics on the defence lawyers. In some instances these have been flagrant, while in others they have been more discrete.

1. Insufficient time for the defence

The rush to go to trial has led to the most serious of the court’s decisions, which violate the right to prepare one’s defence with full legal guarantees. In a mass trial such as this, with twelve defendants, five hundred approved witnesses and thousands of documents, the lawyers will have had just ten days from when the date was announced to the actual start of the trial, 12 February. In fact, the political prisoners began to be transferred to Soto del Real and Alcalá Meco prisons in Madrid before the Supreme had publicly confirmed the trial’s start date. The legal teams have had to work in Spanish prisons and in precarious conditions because they were prevented from using computers. The defendants have not been allowed to be released on bail during the trial in order to better prepare their defence.

2. Blaming the defence teams

During the entire pre-trial phase, which began with the filing of formal charges, the Supreme Court judges have publicly accused the defence teams of using stalling tactics, in order to needlessly lengthen the proceedings until the trial begins. For many months the defence teams have faced a series of technical and technological challenges which have prevented them from being able to easily access documentation relating to the trial. They have also been denied access to countless earlier investigations and key documents about the activities of the Mossos [the Catalan police force] on 1 October or the role of Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez on 20 September [when a mass protest was staged in Barcelona]. The accusatory tone aimed at the defence is also apparent in a document produced by the General Council of the Judiciary (GCJ) which is part of the file the Spanish government has produced to misinform the international media. The defence lawyers are blamed for the start date of the trial being postponed from the 5 to 12 February.

3. Two judges to deal with foreign media

The file, which Spanish embassies will send to the European media, also reveals the Spanish government’s intention to allocate two GCJ judges who “will be on hand to provide journalists with further information regarding the more complex legal matters”. It is worth noting that the Supreme Court’s press office was unable to confirm whether this was true when VilaWeb approached them several days ago. It is yet another decision aimed at taking control and trying to influence the way in which the trial is reported to the world.

4. The banning of international observers

One of the most outrageous occurrences in recent days has been the court’s decision to turn away international observers by arguing that the trial will be televised and, therefore, it will receive sufficient publicity. The court has taken the same line as the public prosecutor and the Spanish government, who do not wish to have observers in the courtroom. Furthermore, the court makes light of the fact that international observers had requested five seats in the public gallery, arguing that “since the trial will be broadcast, any member of the public can be an observer”. Amnesty International, one of the organizations which was refused access as an international observer, declared that in order to be able to enter the courtroom, it would have to queue up in the early hours of the morning to try and secure a place among the public. Other organisations which received a similar reply included International Trial Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights, which represents 184 organizations throughout Spain; EuroMed Rights, representing more than eighty groups; Front Line Defenders, a recipient of the 2018 UN Human Rights Prize; the American Bar Association, with more than 400,000 members in the US; and also Fair Trials, the Antigone Association, the European Democratic Lawyers Association, the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights, the Committee of Jurists for Human Rights, the Centre for Legal and Social Studies, and the Maghreb Confederation of Human Rights Organizations.

5. Sessions held from Tuesday to Thursday, and possibly also on Mondays, Fridays and even Saturdays.

The Spanish Supreme Court intends to finish the trial and pass sentence before May, since campaigning for the European and local elections begins on 10 May. This means that barely three months remain for witness testimony and cross-examinations. Initially the court will be in session from Tuesday to Thursday, from ten in the morning until six in the afternoon, with an hour and a half for lunch. However, the court has already revealed to certain media outlets that this might change in the middle of the trial. If the initial phase (testimony by the accused) takes too long, the court will pick up the pace, meaning that sessions will also be held on Monday, Friday and even on Saturday. The initial timetable already has very negative consequences for the defendants and their families. To begin with, the trial will take place in Madrid and not in Barcelona, as the defence had requested, invoking the fundamental right to be assigned a local judge in accordance with the law, another right which has been violated.

6. Relatives to be adversely affected

The defendants’ families will be greatly affected by the fact that the trial will take place in Madrid and that it will go on for so long. In accordance with prison regulations, they are allowed two special monthly visits, but these must take place on a weekday, meaning that during the trial they can only take place on a Monday or a Friday, although their legal teams will also have to make use of the short time available to work with their clients on their defence strategy. Furthermore, each defendant has only been allocated two places for family members in the courtroom. If the court holds sessions on Mondays and Fridays, both the families and the lawyers will be adversely affected.

7. Conditions during the prison transfer

The defendants will also be adversely affected, since every day of the hearing will be an ordeal for them: they must be driven from whichever prison they are in (the men are in Soto del Real and the women in Alcalá Meco) to the courthouse on a daily basis. A round-trip of over two hours. They will be transported in Guardia Civil vehicles, handcuffed (in previous transfers some of the prisoners complained that there weren’t seat belts). When the session ends, they will be returned to prison, where they will arrive after dinnertime. The following day they will have to get up early again to repeat the process.

8. The court rejects the defence’s key evidence and witnesses

The seven judges led by Justice Manuel Marchena have allowed almost every witnesses and piece of evidence proposed by the Prosecutor’s Office, the Solicitor General’s Office and the far-right party Vox [a private plaintiff in the case]. Meanwhile, the defence has seen how fifty witnesses, some of which are key, a whole host of experts and vital pieces of evidence which would help to take apart the prosecution’s version of events, have been turned down.

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