A letter to the judges of the 1-O trial

Resolving major issues without a multilateral debate goes against the European ideal

Dear Sirs,

I have been considering writing this letter for days. I’ve never found being a Spanish national off-putting, but patriotism and sectarianism do bother me, wherever they come from. To me being a Catalan is about being part of a minority that sympathises with many other causes. That’s why I went out to vote on October 1 last year [the day of the referendum on independence]. I refuse to believe that a guilty verdict has already been reached for our political prisoners before the trial and that is why I thought I might pen this letter.

My daughters have learnt to read with concepts such as “freedom” and “political prisoners”, but also “Long live Spain”, “Rajoy” and “Puigdemont” graffitied on street walls. The trial that you must be readying in your chambers will affect their lives much more than we can anticipate today. I trust an improved, evolving justice system that reinvents itself thanks to the exemplary struggle of thousands of historic references which conquered rights that were only unimaginable a few years ago. But progress cannot come from the European Court of Human Rights alone; rather, it requires committed citizens who demand it on a daily basis. Conveying and communicating our concerns and views to those tasked with seeing the case is in our hands. I refuse to regard justice as an alien subject.

Due to my profession —I’m an urban planner— I am forever subjected to the scrutiny and opinions of others and, although it can occasionally be exhausting, the time when experts authored their projects from an ivory office is over. If they work in isolation, architects and engineers can achieve nothing. I can’t be bothered with snubs, bitter criticisms and sectarian views, but I do welcome debate and disagreement. To discuss, to opine and to put yourself in the other’s shoes are key to the success of any project. Many people have rushed to write to our political prisoners but my letter today is addressed to the judges who will see their case in autumn this year. My Lords and Ladies, I would like to put to you three issues for consideration.

First of all, there is the realisation that we can’t have a trial until we have discussed a matter that reaches beyond the technicalities of law. Given the scale of the conflict, we deserve an in-depth debate with the Spanish, German, Belgian and Scottish judges whose interpretations of the criminal charges are so different. Resolving major issues without a multilateral debate goes against the European ideal. A summit that brings together judges and their counterparts from several countries, perhaps chaired by a university, is much needed. This would allow us —who are no experts in the intricacies of criminal law— to grasp what is being tried. By this I don’t mean to suggest that you ought to adopt a more sympathetic or accommodating position. I am merely suggesting that you check your views against those of your European colleagues. We must be able to take the conflict beyond Catalonia and Spain and think about it on a universal level. I won’t deny that it is a tall order for a country that wishes to preserve its unity, but the desire to hold a referendum must be legitimate across the world, even if only a minority requests it.

Secondly, the European ideal that gave us individuals with the moral stature of Simone Veil, herself a Holocaust victim, was based on the principle of protecting minorities. The trial of Catalonia’s political prisoners should determine what objective harm the defendants have caused and contrast that with the damage done by pre-trial detention and an eventual guilty verdict. We certainly don’t know what might have happened if the Spanish government at the time had agreed to a legal referendum, so the conduct of its leaders should also be gauged with the same lack of bias. Some of the people responsible will be sitting in the dock, but what about the other side in the conflict? There is a huge risk that their sentences might turn out to be retribution. In contrast, a generous, sympathetic, measured outlook would allow you to weigh the facts in such a way that both sides have an equal share of the responsibility. History is mired with corrupt states who showed no mercy to the weak but, in the long run, only the social projects that condemn the abuse of power survive.

Lastly, what will your verdict resolve? Will it ensure that there are no further demands for a referendum? Will it teach Catalans a lesson or entice them with the project of a renewed justice that is sensitive to the demands of minorities? Will the “confederacy of hotheads” who have brought us here be held to account, including those who held office in Madrid? When did this conflict truly begin and who fired the first shot? Will the professional opinion of any judge who approved of the 1-O vote be allowed? Will discrepancy be permitted? Will they be given the benefit of the doubt and their charges reviewed with sufficient prudence? Will those of us who cast a ballot on October 1 be given a chance to be heard? Will the Spanish government’s intransigence be condemned and future negotiation paths outlined?

My Lords and Ladies, this is a frank invitation to talk to you without red lines. I look forward to your reply. Most sincerely.