Judge of Catalan referendum case accused of losing “objective impartiality” and favouring the prosecution

Some observers criticised the different treatment given to police officers and members of the public on the witness stand

International Trial Watch (ITW) has accused Justice Manuel Marchena of having lost a judge’s “objective impartiality” in the trial he presides over at Madrid’s Supreme Court. The observers remark that “the presiding judge’s inconsiderate, restrictive attitude towards the defence teams reached a new high this week with an obvious loss of objective impartiality” and they criticise the differences in the way police officers and members of the public were treated on the witness stand. Furthermore, they denounce the “out of courtroom reprimand” meted out to Jordi Cuixart’s counsel by means of “an unofficial press release” where the court voices its “deepest, unanimous unease” with the conduct of the defence. According to the observers, the note might be an attempt to influence the counsel’s strategy, “which is entirely at odds with the objective impartiality expected from the court and it might lead to a limitation of the right to a proper defence”.

In a statement, ITW complains that Justice Marchena “restricted the testimonies of witnesses” who described what they had experienced on October 1, the day of the independence referendum, as they voiced their fear or utter surprise at the attitude of the Spanish police. In contrast, the court allowed police officers on the witness stand “to describe at length the looks of hatred” they had seen in the crowds gathered at polling stations, expressing opinions and making comparisons with the Basque Country back when ETA was committing acts of terror. According to some observers, Justice Marchena did not interrupt the prosecution’s witnesses nearly as much as the defence’s, as the former were afforded much more leniency on the stand.

The restriction of the witnesses’ testimonies prompted a protest by the defence lawyers, who were admonished by Marchena and urged to get on with their cross-examination. When a lawyer said he had no more questions, Justice Marchena remarked “All the better”. ITW notes that “all this shows many parallels with other cases where the European Court of Human rights eventually ruled against Spain (Otegi vs Spain, 2018), after it was established that the court had abandoned its objective impartiality”.

Furthermore, some observers have pointed out that the court shows “no interest” in learning about the use of violence on October 1 and they harbour doubts as to Marchena’s objectivity “because he repeatedly seems to favour a certain angle in the narrative, making the defence’s job difficult”. ITW —a platform led by Catalonia’s Institute for Human Rights, the Catalan Association for de Defence of Human Rights and Iridia, among others— have also criticised the decision not to release the prisoners who recently won a seat in the Spanish parliament. They insist on the political nature of the trial and that the defendants’ freedom is being curtailed as per the doctrine of the European Court of Human Rights.