Editorial

The Spanish Supreme Court's utter discredit

The Supreme Court's about-face on mortgages raises questions about Spain's status as a full democracy

The Supreme Court's discredit seems to have no limits. Carlos Lesmes, its president, met on Monday for more than three hours with the judges who had ruled on Thursday that it is the banks —and not their clients— that have to pay the tax levied when a mortgage is taken out. It was a decision that, in being unprecedented, was suspended on Friday by Luis María Díez-Picazo, President of the Court, due to its "enormous economic and social repercussions". Thus, instead of announcing an imminent decision that would put an end to the legal uncertainty, Lesmes postponed the resolution of the crisis for two weeks. The plenary session of the court, made up of 31 judges, will not meet to make a final decision until November 5th.

Right now, banks and clients don't know what to expect, and it is very possible that mortgage signings will be frozen for the next two weeks. One thing that is certain, however, is that the damage to the Spanish justice system's image has already been done, and is irreversible. The highest judicial body in Spain, the crown jewel of the system, has shown that is incapable of maintaining, not even for 24 hours, a decision that benefits citizens signing mortgages, but that harms banking interests. The suspension of the ruling exposes not only the influence of financial power, but also the favoritism so prevalent in the workings of the highest Spanish courts, where everything is monitored by Lesmes and his clique, known in the corridors of the institution as the GAL, or "group of Lesmes' friends” [Grupo de Amigos de Lesmes], as explained by Ernesto Ekaizer to this newspaper. Díez-Picazo himself belongs to this group, a man whose resignation has already been requested by two associations of judges.

On Friday, Lesmes tried to justify the unjustifiable —that is, that the ruling "is firm and not subject to revision", but that the most important legal criteria contained therein could be changed, the part that says that the banks and not the clients are those who must pay the tax. How can this legal sleight-of-hand be accomplished? By changing the interpretation of the law —in other words, with a pirouette they struggle to find support for in the European judicial community when the time comes for them to issue a ruling.

The fact is that in Catalonia, as a result of the process against the sovereignty movement led by Pablo Llarena, the lack of legal rigor and its ideological bias have long been apparent. But now this discredit has been exposed for all to see with the decision that affects the pocketbooks of all Spanish citizens. It is quite similar to that of the ruling in the Manada case [The Wolfpack, a case of gang rape], which opened the eyes of many people to the chauvinism and backward attitudes of part of the judiciary.

After being discredited by European justice in the case of the Catalan independence process, and after suffering serious blows on questions related with basic rights (the Parot Doctrine and the burning of photos of the king), the Supreme Court has hit rock bottom and raised the question of whether Spain is a democracy at the same level as its European counterparts. And it can clearly be seen now that what Narcís Serra did with the armed forces during the Transition was never done with the judicial system (1).

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Translator’s note:

(1) Former Spanish minister Narcís Serra is credited with having “cleaned up” Spain’s armed forces, which were still riddled with pro-Franco generals in the early 1980’s, when he was appointed Defence minister.

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