Spain’s Supreme Court before 1-O trial: "The right to vote in an unlawful consultation does not exist"

Court issues ruling that reduces 9-N sentence for Mas, Ortega and Rigau

MARIONA FERRER FORNELLS / RUTH PÉREZ CASTRO

Just a few days before the trial against Catalonia’s independence leaders kicks off, Spain’s Supreme Court on Wednesday released the details of the 9-N ruling against Artur Mas, Joana Ortega and Irene Rigau. The court, which had previously found Francesc Homs guilty, took the opportunity to lay out the guidelines that could set the tone for the upcoming trial of the independence process, where two of the judges who tried the former Catalan president and his ministers will also be sitting on the bench.

In a 76-page long ruling, the court states that "the right to participate in a voting process does not exist when its illegality has been proclaimed by whose who interpret and guarantee fundamental rights." Of the November 9, 2014 consultation, it also states that "the exercise of fundamental rights has limits." "The right to vote in an unlawful consultation does not exist," it argues, pointing out that neither does "the right to participate in events of a public interest authorize an official vote to be held so that citizens can give their opinion as to whether a defendant is guilty or not, even if justice emanates from the people." The ruling was penned by Justice Antonio del Moral, who, along with Luciano Varela, is a member of the seven-judge court that will try the pro-independence leaders in the coming weeks.

The judges have thus addressed one of the aspects that will affect the defense, that of fundamental rights. The text also mentions another: the fact that calling a referendum or a consultation ceased to be a crime in 2005. The Supreme Court, which in this case was ruling on disobedience, affirms that it has the authority do so, even if the specific fact of convening a referendum is not a crime: "If the corresponding authority [in this case the Constitutional Court] bans such a vote, as it should, failure to with this instruction by its recipients will constitute disobedience." And it adds that "despite the fact that it prevents the public from participating in matters of public interest."

In addition, the judges describe as “almost bizarre" the notion that the verdict against Mas, Ortega and Rigau could contribute to making "some citizens feel inhibited" when it comes to participating in further consultations, or even "participating in public affairs." Therefore, the court considers "unfounded" the argument regarding citizen disenfranchisement alleged by Artur Mas and and his ministers, accentuated by the "fear that their legitimate representatives may be convicted."

The court justified the reduction of the disqualification penalty arguing that Mas, Ortega and Rigau have already endured the effects of the penalty without, officially, it having yet been applied. The fact that none of them could run in the elections, even though the ruling had not yet been confirmed, means that "the defendants are suffering an extra-judicial measure of similar content." Therefore, concluded the Supreme, the "de facto" period of disqualification began as of the first ruling. "We cannot ignore this," it states.

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