The questionable independence of the Spanish justice

>Washington, DC. – The Spanish Constitutional Court (CC) recently ruled on the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. This by-law was ratified by the people of Catalonia by referendum in 2006 after a long legal path from the Catalan Parliament to the Spanish Court, the signature of the King of Spain, and finally the Catalan referendum which approved the text following the democratic process to the letter. However, this document has since been watered down by a High Court of questionable legitimacy, influenced by political biases; and believe it or not, this has happened in a supposedly democratic European country: Spain.

There are many reasons to justify why the Constitutional Court in Spain is in an anomalous situation, which raises questions about its legitimacy to rule on the Catalan Statute. Here are a couple of them: a political battle between the two main parties in Spain has blocked the normal process to renew at least three of its twelve members in the last two years (moreover, one who recently died has not been replaced) because of fear of and political interest in the recent ruling. Furthermore, one of the two parties responsible for blocking this renewal — the People’s Party (PP), now in opposition — was also the party which appealed the Statute’s unconstitutionality.

Spain has a very weak judicial system which is influenced by members of government, citizens, and firms. The World Economic Forum periodically releases data reports. Among these documents, there is the Executive Opinion Survey, a major component of The Global Competitiveness Report, which poles around 13,000 business executives worldwide. This survey shows a wide variety of national indicators one of which relates to judicial independence. In the most recent of these surveys, Spain is listed in the 60th place, below other countries like Nigeria (59th), Gambia (41st), Saudi Arabia (34th) or Oman (29th), and just above the Czech Republic and China (!).

The independence of the judiciary is a basic principle of democracy. The judiciary should not be subject to improper influence from other branches of government, or from private or partisan interests, and when this happens, its legitimacy is called into question. The answers of the survey of the World Economic Forum shouldn’t be forgotten by the Spanish legislators. It’s an embarrassment for the country and a reason for Catalan people to disregard the decision on its Statute of Autonomy.