Rights International Spain Denounces Attacks on Judicial Independence

Several Spanish organizations have sent a report to the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers to voice concern for judicial independence in the country.

Rights International Spain, together with the associations Judges for Democracy and the Independent Judicial Forum, has written for the second time in this legislature to the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, denouncing the fact that "various government initiatives are eroding the principle of separation of powers," which "leads to the weakening of judicial power and the rule of law."

Their report makes reference first to the recent and controversial appointment of the new president of the Third Division of the Supreme Court (Contentious-Administrative Chamber).

According to international standards in the field, in order to safeguard judicial impartiality and independence, it is imperative that such appointments be transparent and free of pressures or influences, and that the criteria guiding the appointment be objective and based upon professional integrity and ability.

Government meddling

The organizations explain that the non-renewal of José Manuel Sieira Míguez is a landmark, as it is the first time in the history of the Supreme Court that a chamber president is not renewed for a second mandate. This non-renewal is despite his 22 years of work as a Supreme Court judge, the last five years of which he served as the president of the chamber.

The General Council of Judicial Power has not justified this decision, and there is evidence of government meddling in order to avoid rulings such as the annulment of the pardon initially granted to a 'kamikaze' driver at a border crossing.

This appointment constitutes, in the words of the signatories of the report, "one more expression of the dire situation of judicial independence in Spain, specifically the reform of the General Council of Judicial Power which is diminishing judicial independence."

The report questions the most recent reform of the Law of Judicial Power (Ley Orgánica del Poder Judicial), which includes modifications that undermine the collegial nature of the General Council of Judicial Power, and therefore its independence.

Many amendments

The report highlights the fact that, including this one, nine amendments to the Law of Judicial Power have been passed, all at the urging of the Popular Party.

These are "such far-reaching legal reforms" that they "have an impact upon judicial security," and yet there has never been a genuine discussion with civil society organizations nor have these reforms taken into account the opinions of legal practitioners, say the authors of the report.

Lastly, the authors of the report denounce that the reform to the Criminal Procedure Law currently being considered by the Senate (and promoted by the present government) would set "a limited time period for penal enquiry for the supposed purpose of accelerating the justice system."

This measure, according to the organizations, "would especially affect cases of political corruption, as it would prevent judges from making the necessary investigations to enquire into these criminal acts."

Counterproductive reform

The reform does not include a budget allocation that might allow "penal investigation to be carried out within the established time limits," and the organizations hold that this measure "is counterproductive in the fight against corruption, as it would, in practice, increase impunity."

We should keep in mind that some months ago, in April of this year, Rights International Spain and Judges for Democracy wrote a letter and a report to the European Council in which they denounced these two legislative reforms (of the Judicial Power and Criminal Procedure laws) among other measures included in a set of reforms promoted by the Spanish government.

The organizations considered these "partial and inadequate reforms" that should be withdrawn until such time as a "process of consultation with experts and civil society organizations" might be carried out with the objective of reorganizing and modernizing the judicial system.

Rule of law

The organizations urged the Council to make use of a new EU instrument intended to reinforce the rule of law, and to "adopt a series of measures to prevent the continued deterioration of the rule of law in Spain."

Lydia Vicente, the executive director of Rights International Spain, has expressed that "the lack of judicial independence in our country is unsustainable, first because it entails a flagrant threat to one of the most essential elements of the rule of law, and second because without independent judges the rights and liberties of the whole population are at risk."

Joaquím Bosch, the spokesperson for Judges for Democracy, one of the judicial associations that signed this report, says, “The political pressure to control the judicial system has reached a level unsurpassed since democracy was instated. Political efforts to influence the high courts are seriously diminishing the credibility of our judicial institutions. In our country the division of powers is under serious threat, and for this reason we require the intervention of international organizations."