SEPARATION OF POWERS

Lawyers sue Spain’s judiciary leadership over affinity for PP

A new legal association denounces "lack of impartiality"

A complaint for continued neglect of duty has been filed against Carlos Lesmes, the President of Spain’s General Council of Judicial Power (CGPJ) and 19 other senior members of the Spanish judiciary. The Associació Atenes de Juristes pels Drets Civils (Athens Association of Jurists for Civil Rights) has decided to lodge a criminal complaint against the judicial leadership for lack of impartiality and independence from the executive and legislative powers.

In an lengthy text, the plaintiffs state that there is a plot in the CGPJ to benefit the ruling Partido Popular and place sympathizing magistrates in key positions connected to the main court cases of corruption involving Mariano Rajoy's party. "Preserving separation of powers is a basic principle; this is about democracy", stressed Jordi Ferres, one of the movers behind the legal association created in March, in comments to ARA.

The complaint, written by Elpidio José Silva, a former judge that was disqualified over the instruction of the Blesa corruption case, is directed against Lesmes, members of the CGPJ —in the majority conservatives—, and National Court judges. A series of cases are listed in which different judges had maneuvered supposedly to gain control over judicial proceedings involving the PP. One of the names that has received much attention is Concepción Espejel, the former president of the second section of the National Court's criminal court division. The plaintiffs are accusing her of taking advantage of her office after taking over the presidency to modify the traditional system of rotations of judicial cases in order to ensure that they would fall to her. Thus, she managed to achieve control over proceedings in the Gürtel case and that of the PP's slush fund, according to the legal association. Espejel, however, in the face of recusals of the parties implicated in these proceedings, was set aside by her own colleagues because they doubted her impartiality. Nonetheless, at the end of last year the full session of the CGPJ, thanks to the votes of the conservative majority, promoted her to president of the criminal court, a higher position than she used to hold.

Another case brought up by the lawyers is the arrival of Enrique López López at the National Court's Appeals Court division. He is a judge who was also recused from the proceedings in the early stages of the Gürtel trial owing to his proximity to the PP, a charge supported by his participation in 68 events hosted by FAES (a PP foundation) and an article published in La Razón in 2011 in which he called for the PP to oust the PSOE from government. After his appointment to the appeals court, he had jurisdiction over any appeals that might result from the Gürtel case.

Recommendations unheeded

Beyond the string of examples to justify the alignment of judicial leadership with the PP, the promoters of the complaint warned that the CGPJ has not followed the recommendations of the Group of European States against Corruption and Organized Crime (GRECO), which in 2014 sounded the alert over the "politicization of the highest positions in the judiciary” in Spain. "Some [judges] have said that sometimes they knew beforehand that they would be appointed for a specific important post", stressed the group.

"The important thing is that the selection of magistrates is based on merit", said Ferres, who noted that the GRECO advised that appointments be made following "assessable objective criteria". Despite the initiative's slim chancesc of success, the complaint arrives at a time when relations between Lesmes and Rafael Catalá are strained following the Justice Minister's criticisms of one of the judges in the Manada case (1).
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Translator’s note:

(1) A group of young men who called themselves la Manada (“the Wolfpack”) have been recently found guilty of sexually abusing a young woman, but rape charges were dismissed by the court, which has outraged many in Spain. One of the three judges that saw the case failed to see any sexual misconduct at all in the group’s actions.

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