Spain’s Supreme Court ignores European justice by refusing to release Junqueras from prison and preventing him from being an MEP

According to Spain’s Supreme Court, the ERC leader is barred from office and has no parliamentary immunity

Oriol Junqueras will not be in Strasbourg on Monday to participate as an MEP in the European Parliament’s plenary session. Madrid’s Supreme Court has ruled that he is not entitled to parliamentary immunity and refuses to release him from prison to take his seat. On Thursday Spain’s Supreme Court, presided by Manuel Marchena, unanimously agreed that the European Union Court of Justice’s (ECJ) ruling recognizing Junqueras’ immunity is invalid since the ERC leader had already been convicted and handed down a 13-year prison sentence. In its judgement, the Supreme Court also ended the temporary suspension of the disqualification from office, which is now definitive.

In short, the Supreme Court has ignored Luxembourg's decision on the grounds that Junqueras is no longer in pretrial detention. This in spite of the fact that Marchena had promised to take into account the ECJ's decision, even if there was already a final ruling. The Spanish court concludes that Junqueras is barred from office and is therefore unable to be an MEP, even if he was democratically elected on 26 May: "In accordance with electoral law, the consequence of a prison sentence having been confirmed is that Junqueras is barred from holding office as an MEP". Thus the Supreme Court has shut the door on the possibility of Junqueras serving as an MEP, while arguing that there is no need to ask the European Parliament for a preliminary ruling since he no longer has immunity. The court will now communicate the decision to both the European Parliament and Spain’s Junta Electoral Central (Central Election Board or JEC).

The Supreme Court judges point out that in "future cases" they will apply the ECJ’s "innovative" legal doctrine, which establishes that anyone on remand who acquires the status of an MEP –which takes effect from the moment at which they are elected– must be released in order to collect their parliamentary credentials.

Court does not reverse its ruling in the case of the Catalan independence leaders

The judges also failed to change their decision with respect to the recent trial of the Catalan leaders, even though Junqueras –according to the European Court of Justice’s decision– acquired immunity following the European elections, months before being sentenced to 13 years in prison in that trial. The court points out that the trial had ended a day before the ERC leader was declared to have been elected an MEP on 13 June.

The court has been considering how to respond to the ECJ’s decision, which came after the Supreme Court asked it to make a preliminary ruling with regard to Junqueras’ immunity. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court did not wait for a response from the ECJ before making its decision public.
In its response to the ECJ’s ruling, the State Attorney's Office called on the Supreme Court to allow Junqueras to travel to Brussels or Strasbourg to collect his parliamentary credentials, while the Prosecutor's Office argued that Junqueras ought not to enjoy parliamentary immunity since he is no longer on remand. The Supreme Court has endorsed the Public Prosecutor’s version of events.

Court supports the JEC’s decision

This Thursday the Supreme Court also dismissed Oriol Junqueras’ appeal against the Junta Electoral Central’s decision not to recognise him as an MEP. Junqueras had asked the high court to suspend the decision as a precautionary measure, but the Supreme Court's Contentious Administrative Chamber has declined. The judges have unanimously decided to reject the appeal and conclude that failure to suspend the JEC’s decision "does not violate the fundamental rights invoked by Junqueras" or EU law.

The Supreme Court argues that Junqueras has been found guilty and sentenced to 13 years in prison. According to the judges, "When weighing up the two arguments, it is necessary to give a preference in the abstract sense when a sentence is final". The Supreme Court, however, has only rejected the precautionary measure and has yet to begin to study whether the JEC’s decision is in accordance with the law. It will do so in the next few days.

Supreme Court’s official message to the European Parliament

As soon as the Supreme Court's ruling was made public, Carlos Lesmes, the President of the Supreme Court, officially announced Junqueras’ disqualification from the European Parliament, which had been treating Junqueras as an MEP since the ECJ's ruling. In a letter posted on the General Council of the Judiciary’s Twitter account, Lesmes informed the President of the European Parliament —David Sassoli— of the decision made by the Supreme Court, presided by Manuel Marchena, and he attached a letter from the judge.

In said letter, Marchena states that immunity "did not preclude prosecution or the passing of a sentence", since at the time when Junqueras was declared an MEP-elect the witness testimony and cross-examination phase of the trial had already come to an end. According to the president of the Supreme Court, the fact that Junqueras has been sentenced to 13 years in prison means he "is ineligible according to Spanish law", which constitutes a "clear case of ineligibility" of him being an MEP, "as the JEC has also ruled". As a consequence, the letter goes on to say, the "validity of the final ruling" in the 1 October trial "has been confirmed".