The human rights advocacy group Rights International Spain and the association Judges for Democracy have already made various appeals to the previous Special Rapporteur; in this letter they review the principle "challenges to the independence of judiciary powers and citizens’ access to the judicial system, both essential pillars of the rule of law."
Political interference with CGPJ
The letter points out that the process by which members of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) are named allows political powers to intervene in the body that governs the judicial system. This situation has become more acute with the reforms promoted by Mariano Rajoy’s government in the 10th Legislature: now when one party controls a three-fourths majority in one of the Chambers of Congress (as the Popular Party did in the last term of the Senate) it may name members of the CGPJ without negotiating a consensus with the other parties. This reform has been severely criticized by the two organizations that authored this letter and in reports by various organs of the Council of Europe.
Successive reforms in the Law of Judiciary Powers
The organizations that authored this letter denounce the reform to the Law of Criminal Prosecution that places a limit of 6 to 18 months for the investigation of criminal acts.
Far from making the judicial process more agile (as the authors of the reform claim), this measure — together with the lack of resources and excessive burden of work suffered by judges and magistrates — "in practice contributes to greater impunity, specifically in cases of political corruption, and to an increase in distrust of the courts."
Lack of resources
The letter also mentions the lack of "both human and economic" resources as one of the principle impediments to judiciary independence and the separation of powers. This lack of resources has become more acute in the 10th Legislature. The letter points out Spain’s poor performance in European reports on judicial efficiency: it is one of the countries that allocates the fewest resources to this sector.
This situation has "an impact upon the capacity of the courts to exercise the necessary jurisdictional control over the executive and legislative branches" and negatively affects "the general public’s opinion of the institution."
The authors of the letter also cite the pressure exercised by politicians, including some of the members of the government, upon individual judges in the course of their investigations "through insults and attacks upon their professional abilities." This occurs more frequently "in very sensitive cases, such as those involving freedom of expression and assembly, as well as cases of corruption or terrorism."
Cutbacks in judicial aid
The letter highlights another difficulty citizens face in securing their right to a free and fair trial: cutbacks in Judicial Aid impelled by a reform made by the previous Government. Under the new norms, fewer people are entitled to free legal counsel, and the process for requesting counsel is more complex, making it more difficult to access this essential public service.
Initiation of Zero Paper project — with zero resources
Lastly, the letter makes reference to a
reform requiring the courts to work with exclusively electronic
systems as of January 1st 2016. This shift has generated
many problems as it was instated "without means nor adequate public
investment," and without establishing unified criteria across the
judiciary entities (with the corresponding legal insecurities). As
the management of this process depends upon the Ministry of Justice,
the government has access to all the judicial notifications "which
constitutes a dangerous attack upon the division of powers."
Given the gravity of the situation, the organizations that authored this letter hope that the UN expert will make a special visit to the country to observe first hand these challenges to judiciary independence. Ignacio González Vega, spokesman for Judges for Democracy, reminds us that according to the Fifth External Review of the General Council of Lawyers in 2015 there is "a grassroots demand for an immediate and profound reform to how the judicial system in Spain functions."
According to this study, a massive proportion of Spanish citizens (81 percent) express this bitter opinion: "all the governments, irrespective of their party affiliation, have been more interested in controlling the judiciary than in providing it with the resources it needs to function correctly."
Lydia Vicente, executive director of Rights International Spain, highlights the importance of an independent judiciary in guaranteeing fundamental rights:
"In recent times, it has become clear the extent to which an independent judiciary system is crucial in avoiding serious violations of our civil rights and liberties. Without an independent judiciary system, the most basic principles of a democratic society are in danger, we are all in danger."